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ETHIOPIA: Leaders urged to make more effort in fighting HIV/AIDS

Photo: Anthony Mitchell/IRIN
Poster warning against HIV/AIDS
ADDIS ABABA, 21 July 2003 (PlusNews) - Participants in an HIV/AIDS conference in Addis Ababa have called on the Ethiopian authorities to take a greater leadership role in the fight against the epidemic.

The call came on Sunday at the end of the symposium, organised by the pro-government media outlet Walta along with the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office (HAPCO), and the Centre for Disease

Dr Teklu Belay, from HAPCO, the government's anti-AIDS arm, acknowledged that successes in the fight against the virus had been "minimal".

The conference heard that the disease was killing around 600 people a day in Ethiopia and the death toll was rapidly increasing. Two thirds of deaths among people aged between 20 and 54 in the capital were AIDS-related.

President Girma Wolde Giorgis warned that the spread of HIV/AIDS would throw the country’s anti-poverty strategy off course if it remained unchecked.

"The virus is subverting our family lives, destroying family lives and people who need care are left without care," the president pointed out.

As yet, there are few laws within Ethiopia's constitution that are enforced to protect victims of stigmatisation – such as losing their jobs or homes because of the virus.

AIDS campaigners in the country said there were small glimmers of hope. They pointed to the small-scale distribution of antiretroviral drugs - expected to begin on Monday.

However, for many, the drugs – imported from India - are simply too expensive to afford, costing around US $40 per person per month.

The government says it does not have enough money to treat everyone and is limiting the distribution to people who can afford treatment.

Dr Tekeste Kebede from the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) warned the 350 delegates that the AIDS crisis would get worse before it improved.

He urged the government and campaigners to boost "primary prevention efforts" in tackling the virus, as well as expanding AIDS care and drug availability.

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[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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