Political leadership vital in scaling up prevention, treatment and care, WHO says

12 July 2004, Bangkok -- Strong leadership is vital for increasing HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention and care, said the World Health Organization (WHO) at a leadership forum of the XV International AIDS Conference, on Monday 12 July.

“Leaders have the responsibility to stand up to AIDS and take the fight forward,” said Dr Teguest Guerma, Associate Director, WHO Department of HIV/AIDS. Organized by WHO the forum featured South African treatment activist Zackie Achmat, Zambian First Lady Maureen Mwanawasa, Thailand's Deputy Public Health Permanent Secretary Pakdee Pothisiri and US Congresswoman Barbara Lee and discussed how leaders can and should contribute to increasing HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention and care.

At the forum, participants urged rapid action for lowering prices of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs and emphasized greater participation of faith-based organizations in increasing access to treatment. Participants also highlighted that it is vital to work with vulnerable groups and make medicines available to children living with HIV/AIDS.

Citing "3 by 5" as a great hope for people living with HIV/AIDS, Zackie Achmat of the Treatment Action Campaign also underlined that getting three million people on antiretroviral treatment by 2005 is, "an urgent challenge that has to be discussed at country level."

Fighting stigma and discrimination was underlined as a necessary action point and participants agreed that awareness raising campaigns for prevention and treatment need to be scaled up - especially among women and young people. “We should empower women and the youth with life skills and promote more use of condoms in relationships,” said Zambian First Lady Maureen Mwanawasa.

Focusing on integrated approaches on treatment and prevention, Thailand’s Deputy Public Health Permanent Secretary Pakdee Pothisiri outlined how, in Thailand, programmes linking prevention with treatment has proven to be the most effective way in dealing with HIV/AIDS. “We must not medicalize AIDS,” he said, adding that control of the disease requires involvement of all social sectors.