While they say ‘there is no end in sight’ for aids...

Sumita Thapar, IANS

A Jagran Pantomime Theatre performance at the Global Village in Mexico City last week during the XVII International AIDS Conference

The world's largest AIDS conference has ended with governments, health experts and HIV-positive people determined to tackle the next 25 years of the epidemic, but the end to the pandemic is "nowhere in sight".

There were few answers none were really expected at the recently concluded XVII International AIDS Conference, held for the first time in Latin America and attended by 25,000 people.

"For the first time, fewer people are dying of AIDS and fewer people are becoming infected with HIV," said Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, the joint United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS.

But he warned: "The end of AIDS is nowhere in sight."

Speakers at the closing session highlighted the negative impact that stigma and the denial of human rights continue to have on both HIV prevention and treatment.

"The voices of those who bear the brunt of this pandemic have been loud and clear in Mexico City this week," said conference co-chair Pedro Cahn.

Three million people in the developing world are on treatment, but twice as many are still unable to get life-saving medications.

AIDS is preventable, but more than 6,800 people contract new HIV infections each day.

AIDS is treatable, but 2.1 million people more often than not young adults in prime earning and parenting years die each year from the disease.

Keren Dunaway, an AIDS activist at just 13, said: "People look at us and treat us in unusual ways. I want people to see something more than just a girl living with HIV. I want them to see me as a normal girl who studies and is full of dreams."

Treatment makes it possible for people with HIV to live longer, but many questioned the quality of their lives.

A lot of attention at the conference was devoted to homophobia and spiralling HIV infection rates worldwide among men who have sex with men (MSM).

Studies reveal that MSM are on an average 19 times more likely to get infected than heterosexual men in poor and middle-income countries.

The 2010 conference is to be held in Vienna, with a focus on the raging AIDS epidemic in Eastern Europe.