This call was made at the opening of the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) this weekend by Robert Soundre, chairperson of ICASA and of the Society for AIDS in Africa.

Soundre asked Zuma to use his membership of the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) group to “appeal to China, as the world’s second biggest economic power, to follow in the footsteps of the United States government, and support the Global Fund.”

The Global Fund, the world’s biggest financier of programmes to fight HIV, announced last week that it had secured US$12 billion in pledges for the next three years, but this is US$3 billion short of its target.

Despite massive investment in Africa, China’s contribution to the Global Fund has been negligible – this year it pledged US$5 million to the USA’s US$1,65 billion.

Festus Mogae, former president of Botswana, said he was deeply concerned about the fact that, in some African countries, donors covered 90 percent of the costs of antiretroviral treatment.

“Resources are dwindling. There is donor and partner fatigue and antiretroviral treatment and prevention of mother-to-child transmission programmes are the worst affected,” said Mogae, speaking at the first plenary on Sunday.

Interruption in drug supply will lead to increased drug resistance, which is one of the reasons for the tuberculosis explosion,” warned Mogae.

However, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe, said there had been “seismic shifts” in the world’s political and economic landscape, and some African countries were now experiencing the fastest economic growth.

“There needs to be a new paradigm of partnership to fund AIDS with co-financing, not the belief that one part of the world has money and the other does not,” said Sidibe.

Sidibe also expressed concern that many African countries were characterised by “huge numbers of educated, jobless young people” who were increasingly exposed to recreational drugs and “very, vulnerable to HIV infection.”

Africa’s discrimination against same-sex relationships was also highlighted as an obstacle to addressing HIV, which is very high amongst men who have sex with men.

At the opening session, HIV activist Cyriaque Ako reported that same-sex relationships were illegal in 38 African countries and appealed to the international community for assistance to end this discrimiantion.

In a veiled reference to gay discrimination, Mogae said he was concerned that “our continent is becoming a hotbed for discriminatory laws.”

“These people are citizens too and are entitled to human rights and dignity,” said Mogae. – Health-e News Service.