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IN THE NEWS - AIDS Conference in Bangkok - 2004-07-16

Broadcast: July 17, 2004

This is Steve Ember with In the News, in VOA Special English.

The fifteenth International AIDS Conference ended Friday in Bangkok. The conference takes place every two years. It is the biggest gathering for scientists, AIDS activists, policymakers and people with H.I.V. and AIDS. Delegates from more than one hundred countries attended the meeting in Thailand. They shared information and urged governments to do more to fight the disease.

The last AIDS conference took place in Barcelona, Spain, in two-thousand-two. Since then, six million people with AIDS have died. Ten million more people have become infected. And experts say the spread of H.I.V. shows no signs of slowing.

The United Nations estimates that thirty-eight million people are infected with the virus that causes AIDS. Most are in developing countries in Africa and Asia. But health officials say these countries do not get enough money to fight the disease. The World Health Organization says AIDS drugs are reaching only about seven percent of people in developing countries who need them.

In recent years, many big drug companies have reduced the prices of antiretroviral drugs, which suppress the virus. They also have given some away free. But drugs made by American and European companies can cost as much as five thousand dollars a year. Countries like India, Thailand and Brazil make low-cost versions of AIDS drugs. But supplies are limited.

During the conference, French officials said American trade policies aim to prevent more countries from making low-cost copies. An American official denied that.

Delegates in Bangkok urged the United States and Europe to give more money to U.N. efforts to fight AIDS. But the Bush administration has its own five-year plan to spend fifteen thousand million dollars on prevention and treatment.

This plan is similar to one in Uganda. But some delegates said the plan puts too much importance on urging people not to have sex until marriage. The Bush administration says just urging people to use condoms will not stop the spread of H.I.V.

Experts at the International AIDS Conference called for more money to research new ways to prevent the spread of the virus. They discussed some methods being tested for women, such as chemicals that would kill H.I.V. during sex.

Health officials say almost half of all people currently infected with H.I.V. are women. But, in many areas, infection rates are rising much faster among women than among men. Scientists say development of a vaccine to prevent infection is still years away.

During the conference this week in Thailand, there were also calls for new ways to get more people tested for H.I.V. And former South African President Nelson Mandela discussed the need to fight tuberculosis as well. This sickness often kills people with AIDS, since AIDS robs people of their natural defenses against disease.

In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.