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African summit to tackle AIDS crisis

ABUJA, Nigeria -- African heads of state are joining health experts and UN officials for a two-day AIDS summit in the Nigerian capital.

Against a backdrop of fear, stigma, silence, denial and a relentless rise in AIDS-related deaths and illness, Nigeria's Vice President Atiku Abubakar said the summit was crucial.

"It represents the beginning of our collective response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic," said Abubakar. "Literally, it is the fight for survival."

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About 26 million people in Africa are infected with the HIV-virus -- 2.6 million in Nigeria.

With few exceptions, African leaders have been criticised for not taking a more pro-active stance in dealing with the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Conservative African culture, homophobia, and a lack of resources are among the reasons frequently cited, and the price of anti-retroviral drugs remains way beyond the capacity of most Africans.

In recent days, major pharmaceutical companies withdrew a case against the South African government challenging its power to import and manufacture cheaper drugs, including those for HIV-AIDS.

But while most AIDS activist heralded the action as a victory for the continent as a whole, the South African government remains opposed to the use of the drugs.

Speakers at the gathering, organised by the Organisation of African Unity, The Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS, and the Nigerian government, are expected to include U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and former U. S. President Bill Clinton.

The summit will focus not only on HIV/AIDS, but tuberculosis and other related infectious diseases.

Study: HIV drug combo cuts mother-baby transmission
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Drug companies discount AIDS drugs, worry about profits
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S. Africa AIDS case -- a hollow victory?
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AIDS drug court battle dropped
April 19, 2001

Organisation of African Unity
Nigerian Government

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