Africa Update: Toronto AIDS Conference Efforts to combat the spread of HIV in Africa was the highlight of the recent international AIDS conference, held this year in Toronto, Canada.
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Africa Update: Toronto AIDS Conference

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Africa Update: Toronto AIDS Conference

Africa Update: Toronto AIDS Conference

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ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS AND NOTES.

Unidentified Woman: Without further ado, we will introduce and welcome to the podium, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Bill Clinton, and Bill Gates.

GORDON: That was from last week's International AIDS Conference in Toronto. NPR's own special Africa correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault moderated a discussion between President Bill Clinton and computer mogul and philanthropist Bill Gates. Both men spoke about women and AIDS.

Charlayne spoke with NPR's Farai Chideya about the crisis.


The rate of new infections is huge. It's something like four million per year, and most of them are women. And so, you know, they've talked about, in fact, Gates in particular has been investing in not only a vaccine - research on a vaccine to hopefully one day cure AIDS, but also looking at other things that could help women specifically.

Like if the man refuses to use a condom, that leaves women disempowered and vulnerable and infected generally as a consequence. But if these - some of these things that they're not looking into in research like microbicides and gels that would, you know, stop the virus from entering the body, then women would become empowered.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

So from what I understand, microbicides are still a hope. They're not something that you can get in a store, much less give out through an aid organization. What did they mention about their specific programs, what they're doing tangibly now on the ground?

HUNTER-GAULT: Well, you know, they're doing a lot. Clinton was just in Lisutu(ph), and as you know I was there recently too. A country of two million people with 300,000 AIDS victims, and I happen to think that the number is probably greater.

And when I was there, it's mountainous, and people don't have money. They're poor; they don't have transportation. So one of the things that Clinton people are doing is trying to figure out how to set up clinics and provide assistance to people in what young women said when I was there, mountains beyond mountains. So that's one of the things that they're doing.

And then they're doing things to fight stigma. In South Africa, for example, there are people who sneak into the hospitals in the wee hours of the morning because they suspect they're HIV-positive. And then I've heard stories - I mean not stories, these are true situations - where pregnant women who are about to deliver, when they're asked by the nurse if they're HIV-positive, they say no because of the stigma, which condemns a child who could be saved from contracting the virus to contracting it. Because, you know, Neviropene is a (unintelligible) dose that you give the baby, the infant, when he or she is born in a liquid form - you just pour it down their throats - and that prevents them from contracting the virus from the mother even if she's HIV-positive.

And so you can see how severe the cultural, social stigma of AIDS is when a mother would not tell the truth to a nurse in a hospital to save her baby. It is enormous. And you know you have people like Nelson Mandela who is the icon to just about everybody in the world, and his son passed away from HIV/AIDS complications.

And he came out and said, look, this is like any other disease. This is like tuberculosis, it's like cancer. You shouldn't be ashamed. And the icon who, you know, could not convince people to come out and know their status. Lisutu has a campaign and the government there has been given high praise for its AIDS efforts. And their campaign is a know-your-status campaign.

But even so, with a committed leadership that everybody says is necessary in this fight, with people out there every day talking about know your status, people are not coming forward.

CHIDEYA: Well, finally, you also did a panel on women, AIDS and human rights that brought up some of the U.S. issues more. Having done so much work in Africa and having your new book out about Africa, how do you compare what's going on in the States to what has gone on on the continent?

HUNTER-GAULT: Well, with African-American women, it's surprisingly similar. I mean here you have the most industrialized country in the world and you have African-American women in inner cities whose AIDS rates are increasing. Some of it is drug use, you know, bad needles and everything. But a lot of it has to do with the fact that so many African-American men are imprisoned and they contract AIDS there. And they come out to their partners who've been waiting because there are no other men around or maybe they're loyal or faithful or whatever, but the women contract AIDS as well.

On this panel on human rights there was a young woman by the name of Paulette(ph) who was herself incarcerated. And she talked about the way in which in the state of Alabama, AIDS victims - infected prisoners are segregated. Now we know Alabama segregation in our day was blacks and whites. But today AIDS victims are being discriminated against and segregated. And she was complaining about how they don't administer the medicines properly.

So then you really are condemned to death, whereas antiretrovirals generally have extended the lives of people with HIV infections.

CHIDEYA: Charlayne, thank you so much.

HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you, Farai.

GORDON: That was NPR's Farai Chideya speaking with NPR's special Africa correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault.

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