'Aids-free generation' is within our reach, Bill Clinton tells international summit

Ex-President also uses Aids 2014 Conference in Melbourne to condemn downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 which saw six researchers and activists killed

Melbourne

An “Aids-free generation” is within reach, but will not be achieved until better care is provided around the world  for mothers with HIV and their newborn babies, former US President Bill Clinton has said.

Mr Clinton, whose charitable foundation has led the global fight against HIV/Aids for more than a decade, said that preventing transmission of HIV from mother to baby through breastfeeding was “perhaps the single most important thing” health authorities could do in order to eradicate the disease for future generations.

Speaking at the Aids 2014 Conference in Melbourne, Australia, Mr Clinton also paid tribute to the victims of the MH17 plane crash, who included six Aids researchers and activists who were en route to the conference, as well as 37 Australian citizens and residents.

In a strong condemnation of Russia and pro-Russian forces fighting in the east of Ukraine, Mr Clinton said that countries should not “weaken [their] resolve to take a strong stand” over the incident, accusing separatists alleged to have shot down the plane and “those who provided the means to do so” – a reference to reports that Russia supplied the missile system used – of being enemies of the spirit of international “interdependence” that has defined the global fight against HIV/Aids.

READ MORE: Delegates at International Aids Conference vow to honour MH17 victims

The former President, whose Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) funds HIV/Aids clinics in Africa and the Asia Pacific region, said great progress had been made in reducing HIV infection rates and Aids-related deaths, but “the job is far from done”.

Access to treatment for children, which lags behind treatment rates achieved for adults living with HIV, was a particular area for improvement, he said.

“We need to dramatically reduce transmission during the breastfeeding period,” he told the conference. “We’re getting better at reaching women during pregnancy, but once they deliver a healthy baby, many do not come back. As many as 50 per cent of all new paediatric infections occur during the breastfeeding period. Keeping these women in care until the end of breastfeeding is perhaps the single most important thing we can do to achieve an Aids-free generation.”

Video: Aids-relatede deaths fallen by a third

Despite improvements which now see a million high-risk children tested for HIV every year, globally 20,000 children are still infected every month, and 3.2 million are living with the disease.

Mr Clinton also warned over a growing split between the nations of the world over their response to HIV – with new, repressive anti-gay laws in Russia, Nigeria, Uganda and India raising fears that progress may be crippled by discrimination against high-risk groups.

It was “unbelievable”, Mr Clinton said, that “in some contexts” stigma and discrimination against groups at high risk of HIV, in particular gay men, was on the rise – another reference to Russia.

Referring to those accused of downing the MH17, Mr Clinton said that, by contrast, the Aids movement “represented the open hand against the clenched fist, inclusive politics and economics versus division and dominance, cooperation against control, life against death”.

Professor Sharon Lewin, of Australia’s prestigious Burnet Institute for medical research, and co-chair of the Aids 2014 conference, told The Independent that the rise in discriminatory and stigmatising laws in some countries represented a severe setback.

“We’ve talked about stigma and discrimination for 30 years, but really in the last two years things have got worse with the criminalisation of behaviours that put people at risk of HIV... [which leads to] people no longer engaging in care,” she said.

One study, presented at the conference, carried out in Nigeria, which earlier this year introduced harsh new laws banning gay marriage, gay groups and public displays of affection between homosexual men, found that the number of people attending HIV clinics had declined since the introduction of harsh penalties, which include up to 14 years in prison for gay sex.

Mr Clinton’s speech was interrupted by protesters calling for a “Robin Hood” tax on financial transactions, which could generate billions of dollars of additional funding to help bring HIV/Aids treatment and prevention services to millions more people worldwide.

He waited until the protest was complete before carrying on with his speech, and even thanked the protesters. “This is called a conference but I think it’s really a movement,” he said. “That’s why it’s OK if someone stands up and has their say.”

Mr Clinton also paid tribute to leading Aids researcher Professor Joep Lange, who had worked with CHAI and was among the six conference delegates killed on MH17.

“He and the five other colleagues we lost, lived lives which are overpowering in their contribution to a shared future,” Mr Clinton said. “Those who shot them down represent the other side in our struggle to define the terms of our interdependence.”

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

    Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

    £10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

    £17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

    Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

    £32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot