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World AIDS Day - Broken Promises?

December 1 is World AIDS Day and this year’s theme is “Stop AIDS. Keep the promise." With about 39.5 million people living with the AIDS virus and about 25 million who’ve died, many say world leaders and others have failed to keep their promises to help stop the pandemic. The theme centers on the issue of accountability.

Twenty-five years into the AIDS pandemic, the disease is spreading further around the world. This year alone, well over four million people were newly infected and nearly three million people died of the disease.

Marcel van Soest, executive director of the World AIDS Campaign, says current forecasts say things will only get worse.

“In the next 25 years, another 117-million people will die due to AIDS if we are not managing to bring the number of new infections drastically down,” he says.

He gives some examples of broken promises in the fight against AIDS.

“In 2005, 90 percent of young people were supposed to know how to prevent AIDS. And in reality, only 20 percent of young women and 30 percent of young men have this knowledge. By 2005, another promise was made that 80 percent of the pregnant women requiring treatment to stop them infecting their children were supposed to be receiving it. And yet only nine percent were receiving it,” he says.

Joining van Soest in calling for promises to be kept is Mary Robinson, former president or Ireland and founder of the Ethical Globalization Initiative.

“It is a political issue. It is a development issue. It is a security issue, as we recognize more and more. It’s a health issue. It’s a gender issue. And for me, it’s very much a human rights issue, which is the focus that we have. We’re trying to put it in a context of a human right to health. That’s not rhetoric. It’s very practical,” she says.

Robinson says it means keeping the G8 promise to provide near universal access to treatment by 2010 and health care in general.

“It means access of everyone. If they live in a village, in a slum, if they’re not able to afford to pay for it, they must be able to have access to a functioning health system,” she says.

The former UN high commissioner for human rights says much more must be done to protect young girls and women from HIV.

“Young girls who are very poor have sex for food. Teachers sometimes insist upon sex for grades. Older men, uncles and older family members want to address their own HIV status and want to have sex with a virgin. There’s a myth that that will help them. And so on. And we’re not taking this seriously enough,” she says.

Robinson says girls and women between the ages of 15 and 24 are five times more likely than young boys and men to become HIV positive. Also speaking out World AIDS Day is the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders. It says AIDS treatment in the developing world cannot be sustained unless the cost of new medications is addressed. It warns the cost could bankrupt many treatment programs unless governments, international agencies and industry act.