AIDS activists meet to to set up Pan-African lobby

AFP: Cape Town, South Africa - AIDS activists from 20 African countries began meeting in Cape Town Thursday to set up a pan-African lobby for anti-retroviral treatment for victims of the disease, a Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) spokeswoman said. The first thing they are planning to do is send a message to the UN Earth Summit which begins in Johannesburg on Monday (August 26) to demand that AIDS be placed on the agenda of the meeting to be attended by around 100 heads of state and government, MSF's Rachel Cohen said. South Africa's most prominent AIDS activist, Zackie Achmat, told AFP: "What we would like to say to them is that there is a holocaust of poor people and African people. The HIV epidemic is bringing suffering and painful death to millions of our people." "We all have a duty to stop this holocaust, not only in Africa but on all the world's continents. It is a duty to treat people, to prevent infections and to assist sufferers to live better lives." The new lobby group, which has yet to be formally established, will for the moment will be known as the Pan-African Treatment Access Movement, according to a statement. It will take up the call of the UN World Health Organisation, made at an AIDS Conference in Barcelona in June, for three million people to receive anti-retroviral treatment by 2005. "We want to create a unified voice for treatment access that can be directed towards governments and inter-governmental institutions such as the WHO, UNAIDS and the World Trade Organisation," Achmat said. The two-day meeting brings together activists and AIDS sufferers from some of the countries with the highest incidence of HIV in Africa, including Botswana, Swaziland, Uganda and Zimbabwe, Cohen said. Africa is home to most of the world's HIV sufferers but access to anti-retrovirals is rare because of the cost of the drugs.