Conference links AIDS to poverty for first time

 A different emphasis to fighting HIV/AIDS is emerging from the International AIDS Conference in South Africa. Reporting from Durban, CAFOD representative Ann Smith says that, for the first time, the mainstream speakers are embracing the idea that poverty reduction is crucial in the fight against the virus. "Even at the 1998 conference there was little or no talk about the role poverty plays in exacerbating the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa," she said. "The issue has taken centre stage this time, which is excellent news. It vindicates what CAFOD has been campaigning on for years: AIDS and poverty go hand in glove. If you live in poverty you are likely to be poorly educated, to be malnourished, to be vulnerable to exploitation, and to have less access to basic medicines and health care. All these facilitate the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa. At last this fact is prevailing and that is a crucial corner to turn." Ann Smith said discussion at the conference has focused on the link between structural adjustment programmes, high debt repayment and the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa. Altogether 30 CAFOD partners are attending the conference. Mwazandile Nunes, who works for a CAFOD-funded HIV/AIDS programme in South Africa, said: "I am really grateful for the opportunity to be here. It has expanded my whole understanding of what our programme can be about. I have discovered the wider issues of justice and advocacy that are related to access to treatment and other HIV matters. These need to be an integral part of our programme. Next week we may be re-writing our objectives." Ann Smith said that there is increasing attention on the need for a vaccine as a long-term therapy to prevent HIV infection and reduce the disease's progression in the already infected. She said governments and private companies have a responsibility to show political and financial commitment to provide a vaccine available to all. Many delegates see President Clinton's call for a vaccine by 2007 as achievable. Ann Smith concluded that many in Durban are look forward to the next International AIDS Conference in Barcelona with renewed hope.