International AIDS conference begins in Toronto

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Twenty-four thousand delegates from over 132 countries are expected to attend the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto this week

Delegates include scientists, politicians, health care workers, government and non-governmental officials, people with AIDS and celebrities. In attendance will be Bill and Melinda Gates, Bill Clinton, Richard Gere, Olympia Dukakis and Sandra Oh.

The theme of the conference is "Time to Deliver" and is meant to focus attention on the need to meet past promises to increase funding for treatment, care and prevention. The conference began on August 13th and is scheduled to end on August 18th.

There is growing frustration with the failure of developed countries to provide drugs to combat the AIDS crisis in the developing world, particularly Africa.

"What the Western world has to do is deliver on its promises, which it never does. It always betrays the people of Africa," Stephen Lewis, the UN secretary general's special envoy for HIV-AIDS in Africa, told CBC News.

In the week leading up to the conference, Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates announced a donation of US$500 million spread over five years to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Gates and former US President Bill Clinton will be sharing the podium during this week's conference.

International AIDS conferences have usually been attended by world leaders, particularly the leader of the host country. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been criticized for snubbing the conference by sending his health minister, Tony Clement, to attend in his place. The prime minister, who is touring Canada's far north this week, officially declined his invitation to attend three weeks ago.

"It's a dreadful mistake in political judgment, and it's not excusable," said Lewis, who was Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations in the 1980s. "It's a lost opportunity to tell the world how Canada feels about this pandemic.

"The Arctic sovereignty issue will still be there on August 18 (when the AIDS conference ends)," said Lewis. "Forty million people worldwide carry this virus, and most will die preventable deaths. What greater scourge is there than that?"

This is the second major international event Canada has hosted which Harper has snubbed. Last month, he did not appear in Montreal for the 2006 World Outgames, a celebration of elite gay, lesbian, and transgendered athletes.

The AIDS conference is expected to be the largest in history and will be ten times the size of the first which was held in Atlanta in 1985. It has become a biennial event and is convened by the International AIDS Society (IAS), an independent association of HIV professionals, with more than 7,000 members from 153 countries.

Sources

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