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Protesters target drug firms as AIDS conference opens in South Africa

About 4,000 protesters demanded affordable AIDS drugs on Sunday and accused Mbeki of moving too slowly to fight the disease


July 9, 2000
Web posted at: 1:44 p.m. EDT (1744 GMT)

In this story:

Focus on social, economic implications

Declaration reiterates HIV causes AIDS


DURBAN, South Africa -- As an international conference on AIDS prepared to open Sunday in Africa, protesters staged a spirited rally aimed squarely at drug companies and South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Treatment Action Campaign, a South African-based umbrella group backed by 230 AIDS organizations from around the world, staged a march in Durban, South Africa, where the conference is being held, to demand that pharmaceutical companies make affordable drugs available to poor, developing nations.

  • Find out more about the events planned at the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa
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    Marchers, whose ranks numbered more than 4,000, also accused Mbeki's government of moving too slowly to fight AIDS. South Africa has one of the highest HIV-infection rates in the world.

    "The march is to demand that President Mbeki work to make the drug firms substantially reduce the price of HIV-related drugs," TAC spokesman Naghan Geffen said.

    Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, former wife of former President Nelson Mandela, singled Mbeki out for criticism at a rally in downtown Durban.

    Amid roars of approval, Mandela mocked Mbeki for proclaiming the 21st century as the "African century" when AIDS is devastating the continent.

    Advisers to Mbeki said they expected he would allay fears as the conference got under way Sunday night. Mbeki's views on AIDS -- especially his willingness to consider opinions from scientists who believe HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, does not cause the disease -- has confused and dismayed leaders and scientists worldwide.

    Focus on social, economic implications

    This is the first time Africa has hosted the weeklong conference.

    Researchers, activists and health officials hope it will highlight the disastrous effects of acquired immune deficiency syndrome on sub-Saharan Africa, where 24.5 million people have been infected with HIV/AIDS.

    Main issues to be discussed in the conference include the social, economic and health implications of AIDS as well as the lack of anti-retroviral drugs to treat people.

    Durban is in KwaZulu-Natal, the province that has been hardest-hit by AIDS in South Africa.

    "In this province, if you walk into an antenatal (prenatal) clinic, about one woman in three is going to be HIV-infected," Dr. James McIntyre, director of the perinatal unit at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg, said Sunday in a pre-conference briefing.

    Sandra Thurman, White House AIDS policy director, visits babies infected with AIDS at King Edward Hospital in Durban, South Africa  

    Declaration reiterates HIV causes AIDS

    Much of the run-up to the conference has been dogged by controversy over Mbeki's appointment to a panel looking into the disease of scientists who doubt that HIV causes AIDS.

    In a show of force, 5,000 leading scientists from around the globe signed the Durban Declaration, which proclaimed that evidence shows clearly and without ambiguity that HIV is the cause of the epidemic.

    "The data fulfill exactly the same criteria as for other viral diseases such as polio, measles and smallpox," the declaration, recently published in the medical journal The Lancet, states.

    Winnie Madikizela-Mandela criticized South African President Mbeki at a rally in Durban, South Africa, on Sunday  

    The scientists added that debate over the origins of the disease could hamper efforts to curb the epidemic.

    Speaking at a pre-conference briefing, Dr. Helen Rees, chair of South Africa's Medicines Control Council, compared the impact of AIDS with war in Africa.

    "Never before have countries experienced death rates of this magnitude among young adults of both sexes," she said. "You can see something like that among men in times of war, when you see a whole generation cut out between 20, 30, 40 years old ... the breadwinners, the parents, they are taken out of society by AIDS."

    CNN Johannesburg Bureau Chief Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Reuters contributed to this report.

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