High risk of ‘losing control’ of AIDS epidemic: experts

In this file photograph taken on November 29, 2013, Indian sandartist Sudersan Pattnaik gives the final touches to a sand sculpture as a horseman rides by on Golden Sea Beach in Puri, some 65 kms east of Bhubaneswar, on the eve of World AIDS Day. (AFP)
Updated 22 July 2018

High risk of ‘losing control’ of AIDS epidemic: experts

  • The world was “probably at the highest risk ever of losing control of this epidemic
  • Speakers warned that donor and domestic funding has dropped significantly

AMSTERDAM: The AIDS epidemic risks resurging and spiralling out of control unless billions of extra dollars are pumped into prevention and treatment, experts warned Sunday on the eve of a major world conference.
An alarming rate of new infections, coupled with an exploding population of young people in hard-hit countries, meant the world could be steering for “a crisis of epic proportions,” said Mark Dybul, an American AIDS researcher and diplomat.
“Bad things will happen if we don’t have more money,” he told a special event organized a day before some 15,000 delegates attend the opening of the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam.
The world was “probably at the highest risk ever of losing control of this epidemic because of demographics and because of countries not paying attention the way they once did, or never did in some cases,” warned Dybul.
UNAIDS last week reported a record number of HIV-positive people using life-saving antiretroviral therapy (ARV), and lower rates of deaths and new infections — though not low enough according to campaigners.
And even this progress risks being overturned.
Speakers warned that donor and domestic funding has dropped significantly, and would likely continue declining.
Under Donald Trump, the US administration has proposed massive spending cuts, though these have failed to pass through Congress so far.
The US is by far the biggest funder of the global AIDS response.
According to UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibe, there was a funding gap of almost $7 billion (about six billion euros).
“If we don’t pay now we will pay more and more later,” he told the meeting.
Experts lamented that the successful rollout of life-saving, virus-suppressing drugs may have diverted necessary attention, and cash, away from the need to curb new HIV infections.
ARVs are also increasing being used, mainly in rich countries, to prevent contracting the virus from sex.
To meet the UN goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030, infections must be limited to 500,000 per year globally in just two years’ time.
Last year’s 1.8 million new infections showed that “unless we did something completely drastic, we will not get anywhere near” the goal, said Nduku Kilonzo of Kenya’s National AIDS Control Council.
“Condoms work!” she underlined, but only when they are available.
Investment in condom distribution has dropped, and less than half the need was being covered, she said.
“We are far, far, far away from our goal of prevention, not just elimination,” Kilonzo warned. “We have a crisis and it is a prevention crisis.”
David Barr, a senior treatment advocate who is himself HIV positive, agreed that access to drugs, without prevention, “will not end AIDS.”
“When I last spoke in this conference center in 1992, I could never have imagined that I would be standing here 26 years later alive and well,” he told delegates.
“I could never have imagined that 21 million people around the world would be on very effective HIV treatment, I could never have imagined that we will have such effective tools to prevent HIV transmission.”
Yet, the success is “incredibly fragile,” warned Barr.
“We can lose our opportunities and the tools we have created if we fail to use them effectively. If we lose them, then we’re back to the horror of 1992” when infections and deaths were skyrocketing.


Democracy books disappear from Hong Kong libraries

Updated 04 July 2020

Democracy books disappear from Hong Kong libraries

  • Among the authors whose titles are no longer available are Joshua Wong, one of the city’s most prominent young activists, and Tanya Chan, a well known pro-democracy lawmaker
  • China’s authoritarian leaders say the powers will restore stability after a year of pro-democracy protests, will not stifle freedoms and will only target a “very small minority”

HONG KONG: Books written by prominent Hong Kong democracy activists have started to disappear from the city’s libraries, online records show, days after Beijing imposed a draconian national security law on the finance hub.
Among the authors whose titles are no longer available are Joshua Wong, one of the city’s most prominent young activists, and Tanya Chan, a well known pro-democracy lawmaker.
Beijing’s new national security law was imposed on Tuesday and is the most radical shift in how the semi-autonomous city is run since it was handed back to China by Britain in 1997.
China’s authoritarian leaders say the powers will restore stability after a year of pro-democracy protests, will not stifle freedoms and will only target a “very small minority.”
But it has already sent fear coursing through a city used to speaking openly, with police arresting people for possessing slogans pushing independence or greater autonomy and businesses scrambling to remove protest displays.
Wong said he believed the removal of the books was sparked by the security law.
“White terror continues to spread, the national security law is fundamentally a tool to incriminate speech,” he wrote on Facebook, using a phrase that refers to political persecution.
Searches on the public library website showed at least three titles by Wong, Chan and local scholar Chin Wan are no longer available for lending at any of dozens of outlets across the city.
An AFP reporter was unable to find the titles at a public library in the district of Wong Tai Sin on Saturday afternoon.
The city’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which runs libraries, said books had been removed while it is determined whether they violate the national security law.
“In the process of the review the books will not be available for borrowing and reference,” it said.
The law targets acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces.
China says it will have jurisdiction in some cases and empowered its security apparatus to set up shop openly in Hong Kong for the first time, ending the legal firewall between the two.
Rights groups and legal analysts say the broad wording of the law — which was kept secret until it was enacted — outlaws certain political views, even if expressed peacefully.
Any promotion of independence or greater autonomy appears to be banned by the legislation. Another vaguely worded provision bans inciting hatred toward the Chinese or Hong Kong government.
On the authoritarian mainland, similar national security laws are routinely used to crush dissent.
The new security law and the removal of books raises questions of whether academic freedom still exists.
Hong Kong has some of Asia’s best universities and a campus culture where topics that would be taboo on the mainland are still discussed and written about.
But Beijing has made clear it wants education in the city to become more “patriotic” especially after a year of huge, often violent and largely youth-led pro-democracy protests.