Silence is not an option in the battle against HIV and AIDS, the International Development Secretary said last night.
Speaking at the London School of Economics on the eve of World AIDS Day, Hilary Benn warned that it is unacceptable to ignore the stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV and AIDS while “7,500 people will die of AIDS tomorrow, while 11,000 will be infected with HIV.”
He said: “Attitudes to AIDS will not change unless leaders do the right thing. There have been recent positive moves by political, religious and other leaders. We have promising statements from the Vatican recognising that condoms can be ‘pro-life’.
“But while we wait for the silence and denial around sex, men who have sex with men, drugs and AIDS to break, another 7,500 people will die of AIDS tomorrow, while 11,000 will be infected with HIV.”
He called for better treatment and prevention programmes, echoing demands by HIV charities such as the Terrence Higgins Trust.
“Treatment is the key to keeping alive people living with AIDS today, but prevention is the key to achieving an AIDS-free generation tomorrow. Every hour 54,000 UK supplied condoms are used around the world. Since 2001 we have distributed over 1 billion condoms.
“Tackling AIDS is not just about money – it is about tackling attitudes and prejudices. It’s about hating the virus, not the person, ending the silence and denial around sex, including male to male sex, injecting drug users and AIDS. We stand firm Against Injustice Discrimination and Stigma.
“We will not achieve universal access to AIDS treatment by 2010 if stigma and discrimination continues to stop people from using the services available,” he said.
It comes after a Health Protection Agency report revealed that three in every hundred gay men who attended an STI clinic in the last year had acquired HIV, HIV expert at the Agency, Dr Valerie Delpech, said: “The high level of new HIV cases being diagnosed continued in 2005 with 7450 cases recorded, including almost 2400 new cases in gay men.”
Mr Benn highlighted gay men as a vulnerable group as well as young men and women, sex workers and drug users.
He said the problems cannot be ignored, “Many governments are reluctant to provide these groups with the information and services they need because they are considered immoral or illegal. The consequence: 4.3 million new infections worldwide in 2006.
“We have to be honest about what the problem is and about telling the truth about what works. Abstinence is fine for those who are able to abstain, but people like to have sex and they should not die because they do have sex.
“More women over 15 than ever before, 17.7 million, are living with HIV and AIDS, an increase of over a million since 2004. 73 per cent of sex workers in Ethiopia have HIV. Drug injection with contaminated needles and syringes is by far the biggest cause of HIV infection in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. 70 per cent of people living with HIV in Ukraine are injecting drug users.”