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Conference ends with mixed feelings

As delegates from around the world attending the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban prepared to make their way home on Friday, there were mixed feelings about the real success of the gathering.

The organisers said it had been “an astounding success”. But some of the individual delegates from thousands of communities around the world said that not enough was done to bring about real global unity in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Addressing the closing ceremony Dr Stefano Vella, president of the International AIDS Society (IAS), described the conference as a “success” mainly because it had stimulated debate and proven it was possible to hold a conference of this nature in the developing world.

But he said that he did not know if the theme of this year’s conference of ‘Breaking the Silence’ had been achieved. “I believe it may still need years of continued commitment from communities around the world,” he noted.

In his address, former South African president Nelson Mandela said that one of the challenges facing delegates and governments after the conference was to “move from rhetoric to action, and action at an unprecedented and intensive scale”. “There is a need to focus on what works,” he said.

Mandela said that the conference had been important, but that it should not be lost on delegates that their debates concerned very real people and not just statistics. The theories needed to have relevance to the daily lives of millions of men, woman and children across the globe, and in particular across Africa who are living with HIV/AIDS.

“The poor on our continent who carry a disproportionate burden of this scourge would, if anybody cared to ask their opinions, wish that the dispute about the primacy of politics or science be put on the backburner and that we proceed to address the needs and concerns of those suffering and dying,” Mandela said.

Individual delegates IRIN spoke to were ambivalent about the successes of the conference, saying that the political debates removed the focus from the real issue - that of finding ways of helping people live with HIV/AIDS, finding ways of preventing the spread the disease, and reinforcing efforts to find a cure.

“I came here wanting a clear message of political leadership from all African leaders but the silence has been deafening. Instead many chose to go to Togo to the (Organisation of African Unity) OAU summit to talk about the theories of establishing a giant African state. But without people and children this won’t be. We will have a state of sick and dying people,” a delegate from Tanzania told IRIN.

Another delegate from Ghana said: “For me I guess I was expecting more, but I was really pleased to see that the effect that it is having on women and children is starting to be noticed. It’s just a pity that it has taken so long. But I had the opportunity to talk and debate and share ideas with people about their experiences and get so much more information, information that I would never had been able to get.”

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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