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Aids vulnerability 'growing': Liz Hunt reports from Amsterdam where the 8th International Aids Conference has opened

(First Edition)

AIDS experts yesterday urged governments not to cut back on their efforts to stem the epidemic of HIV and appealed for health to be made a political priority.

The eighth International Aids Conference, which opened in Amsterdam yesterday, was told that populations were now increasingly 'vulnerable' to the spread of HIV as some countries downgraded their prevention and research strategy.

Dr Jonathan Mann, chairman of the conference, said that frontline workers knew that the global epidemic was not affected by the present efforts.

He added that 'the gap between the intensifying pace of the pandemic and lagging national and global response is widening, rapidly and dangerously'. By 1995, 20 million people would be HIV positive.

He told some of the 11,000 delegates from 123 countries who are attending the conference, that an 'updated vision' of Aids was needed for the 1990s. It was no longer an isolated health problem requiring a vaccine to cure it. Overcoming poverty and discrimination are now central to the fight, he said.

'If societal inequity and discrimination fuel the spread of the pandemic - then to be effective against Aids it would simply have to address these issues.'

He criticised governments for failing to make health a 'central defining principle, and health workers for being prepared to take a back seat'. However, he described the conference as 'one of hope and not of despair', which would find a new course for the future control of Aids and HIV.

Dr Michael Merson, director of the World Health Organisation's global programme on Aids, drew special attention to the 'subordinate' status of women; 15,000 were infected with HIV every week, he said. Any new strategy must 'empower' women.

The opening session included a bitter attack on the American government for its immigration ban on people with HIV and Aids. The conference had been originally scheduled for Boston but had to be cancelled. The pharmaceutical industry, which priced life-saving drugs out of the reach of many patients, was also condemned.