AIDS Day Is Observed Around the Globe

By ALEXANDER G. HIGGINS
.c The Associated Press


GENEVA (AP) - From Armenia to Zambia activists turned out by the thousands
for World AIDS Day on Wednesday, singing in mighty cathedrals, lighting
candles in city squares and playing sports.

The United Nations has dedicated this year's observance to improving
protection for women and girls. Nearly half of the 39.4 million people infected with
HIV worldwide are female.

``Prevention methods such as the ABC approach - Abstinence, Be faithful and
use Condoms - are good, but not enough to protect women where gender
inequality is pervasive,'' said Peter Piot, head of UNAIDS.

``We must be able to ensure that women can choose marriage, to decide when
and with whom they have sex and to successfully negotiate condom use,'' Piot
added.

As the day began in Asia, where the disease has claimed 540,000 lives this
year, campaigners in Japan and South Korea handed out condoms. Thailand,
Vietnam, and Bangladesh had marches, and the Philippines a promotion for HIV
testing.

The Chinese government ordered local officials to learn about the disease
and televised a rare visit by President Hu Jintao to AIDS patients in a
hospital.

China, which has an estimated 840,000 infected with the AIDS virus, has been
criticized for reacting too slowly to the threat of AIDS. The U.N. AIDS
agency has warned that China could have as many as 10 million people infected by
2010 if it doesn't take urgent action.

An Indian cricket match against South Africa, whose players wore red ribbons
to show their support for the anti-AIDS campaign, was dedicated to promoting
AIDS awareness.

In Pakistan, about 400 aid workers discussed how to empower women in a
region where men usually have a dominant role in society.

At the forefront of the pandemic in southern Africa red ribbons were tied to
lamp posts and draped over buildings. Zambians gathered for a candlelight
memorial service in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the capital, Lusaka.

Soccer matches in Botswana were dedicated to the campaign.

Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of South Africa appealed for
tolerance.

``HIV/AIDS is not God's punishment of the wicked,'' Ndungane told a rally in
Cape Town. ``AIDS is a preventable, treatable and manageable disease - no
more, no less.''

Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika said he wants at least 1 million of
his 11 million people to test for HIV by the end of next year so his government
can determine how many need anti-retroviral treatment.

``We want to have 80,000 people on ARVs by the end of 2005,'' he said at an
event in the central border district of Nchinji. That would be nearly 10
times the number of Malawians receiving free treatment.

Eastern Europe, where AIDS figures have jumped since the collapse of the
Soviet Union, joined in the observance. Events in Armenia included a concert
with well-known local artists.

Serbia-Montenegro, where the number of infected people has risen sharply,
had live radio and television programs to increase awareness of how the disease
spreads.

In the Croatian capital of Zagreb activists handed out condoms and selling
Christmas cards made by AIDS-infected children.

In Estonia, where 4,356 of the 1.4 million residents are HIV positive, the
biggest event was an ``Open Your Eyes'' concert in the Kaarli Church, in the
capital, Tallinn.

Polish campaigners were out to halt the trend of growing infections. In the
northern city of Sopot they lit red candles in the shape of a ribbon, and in
nearby Gdansk they distributed condoms.

Portugal, which has one of the highest rates of new AIDS infections in
western Europe, opened the new headquarters of an association to support AIDS
patients.

A televised five-hour dance-a-thon, which was held simultaneously in the
Dutch city of Arnhem and in Cape Town, South Africa, raised money to fight AIDS.

One candle was lighted for each of the 1,800 people who have died of AIDS in
Denmark during a ceremony in a Copenhagen square.

Victor Mooney, 40, of Woodhaven, N.Y., kicked off a campaign in Rome to
raise $200,000 by selling bracelets to fund his rowing trip from Senegal to New
York next year to raise AIDS awareness.

Piot took his message about improving the chances of women to the United
Nations' commemorative event at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York
City. Hosted by actors Gloria Reuben and Alan Cumming, the event featured
singer Mary Wilson and South Africa's Sinikithemba Choir.

Piot said laws must be passed everywhere against domestic abuse and rape and
to make sure women are educated and have property rights because that will
make them more secure and ``far less vulnerable to HIV.''

``We will not be able to stop this epidemic unless we put women at the heart
of the response to AIDS.''

On the Net:

UNAIDS: www.unaids.org/wac2004/national.htm



12/01/04 11:08 EST