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Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 19:23 GMT 20:23 UK
Racism 'helping spread of Aids'
Dr Peter Piot
Dr Piot: Countries must act against discrimination
The head of the United Nations' Aids programme has told the world racism conference in South Africa that racial prejudice is helping the spread of the disease around the world.

Dr Peter Piot told delegates gathered in Durban if the Aids epidemic had centred on Europe, rather than Africa, and had affected predominantly white people, the response to it would have been faster and more generous.


You can't fight Aids without fighting the stigma and discrimination

Dr Peter Piot, UNAIDS
Dr Piot called on countries attending the conference to adopt legislation banning discrimination against HIV sufferers.

There are about 36 million people infected with HIV around the world, 25.3 of whom live in Africa, according to Dr Piot's UNAIDS organisation.

Fears

"When we think of Aids, it's Africans, black people and so in that sense there is probably that racist underground," Dr Piot told a round table meeting.

African leaders
Africa has the highest rate of HIV sufferers in the world
Dr Piot said laws against prejudice and AIDS should encourage sufferers to feel safe in publicly revealing their infection.

"Why would you come out if you may lose your house, you may lose your job, your husband or wife throws you out, you may be stoned to death?" asked Dr Piot.

The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt in Durban says one problem in the fight against Aids is that few countries have the statistics which can reveal racial differences in the incidence of Aids and the care of sufferers.

A speaker from the World Health Organisation accepted there might be fears that collecting racially based statistics would increase prejudice, but said as long as there were groups exposed to discrimination it was important to monitor their well-being.

Unequal treatment

Our correspondent says racism in the form of apartheid has led to southern Africa having the world's highest levels of infection.

Aids statistics
36m HIV sufferers globally
25.3m HIV sufferers in Africa
6,000 people die of Aids in Africa every day
Number one cause of death in Africa
Fourth highest cause of death around the world
The migrant labour system separated husbands and wives and made normal family life impossible, and discrimination in health care and education and disparities of wealth meant Aids spread fastest among the most disadvantaged groups.

Dr Piot said unequal access to life-saving HIV treatments is one of the worst global examples of discrimination.

"For the great majority of people living with HIV, treatments that have slashed death rates in wealthy countries are simply out of reach," he said.

The conference, which is being attended by representatives from over 160 countries, has composed a draft final declaration saying "people infected or affected by HIV/Aids, as well as those who are presumed to be infected, belong to groups vulnerable to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, which has a negative impact and impedes their access to health care and medication."

See also:

05 Sep 01 | Africa
Conference split on slavery issue
05 Sep 01 | Africa
Racism summit seeks breakthrough
03 Sep 01 | Africa
Racism summit turmoil: Reactions
03 Sep 01 | UK Politics
UK challenged over slavery
03 Sep 01 | Europe
Europe split over slavery row
03 Sep 01 | Africa
Focus on the slave trade
04 Sep 01 | Americas
Compensation for slavery
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