Between robin hood and bill gates

For a week, thousands of participants met in Vienna to discuss an ie that has preoccupied the world for more than three decades: Once again, the World AIDS Conference did not fulfill hopes for a cure. There was applause nonetheless. And the repeated call not to be abandoned in the fight against the disease.

At the booth of U.S. pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), one might have been warned. When French activists at the Vienna World Aids Conference approached with megaphones ("The greed of BMS kills"), one of the gentlemen in the jacket parried confidently: The company takes seriously the concern that after the closure of a factory in France, the Aids drug Videx could become scarce in the dosage for children. And will provide replacements. The statement even came in writing.This time, the activists dispensed with the blood-red paint they usually like to spray. Aids groups from all over the world appeared at the Vienna conference, which ended on Friday, sometimes self-confident and combative, sometimes samba-cheerful: For HIV-infected people, such meetings are important, says Stefan Timmermanns of the German Aids Federation, to recharge their batteries and to feel: "You are not alone."Against discrimination At the "March for Human Rights" through Vienna, the fist protruded from the red AIDS ribbon. Ironies such as "Love must go on", condoms in candy wrappers, a moment of silence and cries for help from Eastern Europe were mixed in: "We are here so that we can be seen", shouted a spokeswoman for Eastern European AIDS groups.It was mainly about discrimination against homosexuals, drug users, prostitutes and prisoners who are HIV-infected or particularly at risk. Unfortunately, most Eastern European governments were conspicuous by their absence. They obviously didn't feel like discussing methadone and clean syringes. "In Eastern Europe, drug addicts are simply the dregs," said an AIDS activist.There was great applause for the South African AIDS research institute Caprisa, which successfully tested a vaginal gel for the first time. This raises hopes that women will one day be able to protect themselves from HIV infection during sex – in a self-determined manner and without the consent of men. The test showed a protective effect of 39 percent. But the scientific director, Quarraisha Abdool Karim, is convinced that even 40 percent protection is better than nothing when the risk is high: "We have nothing else to offer women if their husbands refuse condoms."On average, one in five 18-year-old South African women is now infected with HIV.Vuyiseka Dubula, head of the South African Treatment Action Group, wearing a green hat, boldly challenged multi-billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates: He should lobby for a Robin Hood tax on the rich to fund AIDS programs for the poor. The Microsoft founder patronized the idea, saying he doubted it would work. Germany also under criticism In Vienna, the governments of the United States, Germany, Austria and Canada were particularly criticized for freezing, cutting or not earmarking funds for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The fund hopes to raise a total of $20 billion over the next three years to provide life-saving AIDS treatment to far more people than the 5.2 million who have received it so far. About half financed by the Global Fund. Another ten million need drugs.The need is immense: while today two people worldwide take up therapy, five are newly infected with HIV. That's why the pace of AIDS treatment is to be massively accelerated and costs are to be reduced.A drop of blood is enough. Slipped onto a small cassette, the iron-shaped device called "Daktari CD4" can provide clarity. It counts in eight and a half minutes the CD4 helper cells in the blood, which decrease rapidly in the immune deficiency. A quick HIV test for less than ten US dollars, promises the employee of the Californian company Daktari Diagnostics. The device is to be launched on the market shortly, for around $300.Former U.S. President Bill Clinton would soon like to see such portable hand-held devices with rechargeable batteries everywhere in Africa. About 15 types already exist. The whole thing is still too expensive, thinks the AIDS expert of "Bread for the World", Astrid Berner-Rodoreda. An AIDS test should cost a maximum of four dollars in order to be affordable in rural areas of Africa in the long term.She also wants the hopeful information to reach the villages there: For example, that a couple in which one partner is HIV-positive can have a healthy child with appropriate medication. Meanwhile, a group from Tanzania made a striking protest against corruption in the health sector, saying, "You have blood on your hands".

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Christina Cherry
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