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Monday, 2 December, 2002, 08:43 GMT
Fighting Aids: Ask the campaigners
Bianca Jagger

  Click here to watch the forum.

  • Click here to read the transcript


    More women are now infected with HIV/Aids than men and well above 40 million people are now living with the disease, according to a new research from the UN.

    Their report also reveals more people are also dying from the disease than ever before, with 3.1m Aids-related deaths last year.

    Southern Africa remains at the epicentre of the Aids disaster.

    In the UK, figures show that more than 34,000 people are known to have the virus and that one third of young people think there is a cure.

    This Sunday, December 1st, countries around the world will be marking World Aids Day.

    What steps can be taken to combat Aids/ HIV? Should more preventive measures be taken? Is the world doing enough?

    Human Rights campaigner Bianca Jagger has just returned from India where she visited an Aids education project with Christian Aid. Simon Nelson is from the Terrence Higgins Trust, the leading HIV & AIDS charity in the UK. They answered your questions in a LIVE interactive forum.



    Transcript


    Newshost:

    Hello and welcome to this BBC Interactive Forum. I'm Andrew Simmons. This Sunday the world will be marking World Aids Day. Let's just take a look at some facts from a new UN report that you may not have known about: More women than men are infected with HIV aids; more than 40 million people have the disease and it's killing more people than ever before - 3.1 million last year.

    We've received many, many e-mails from the UK and overseas. With me here in the studio is Human Rights campaigner, Bianca Jagger - welcome to you and Simon Nelson from the Terence Higgins Trust in the UK.

    Bianca, the first e-mail we'll go to in a second, but let's just update ourselves on your movements. You've been to India recently haven't you and also Zambia?


    Bianca Jagger:

    I went to India and Zambia with Christian Aid and we went to cover the issue of Aids in both places.


    Newshost:

    In a nutshell, before we get into the questions, how disturbed were you with the present position?


    Bianca Jagger:

    I think that people know more about Africa where we know that in some countries you have up to 40% of the population infected with HIV. In fact, in Zambia alone, you have 20% of the population infected with HIV. When you poverty fuelling Aids then the result becomes devastating and we will see probably an entire generation being killed by HIV/Aids.

    In India, which I think people know less about it and it is one of the reasons why we went there, there is an estimate today of 4 million people infected with HIV. More disturbing is that out of those 4 million, 400,000 are children engaged in prostitution. I was able to visit women who are engaged in prostitution and children and to see the red light area in Calcutta.

    The issues of Aids in some of the developing nations are so difficult because it is not simply that we could resolve it by the use of condoms because when you have a conservative society - you have for example, in India, women are not in power and of course children are not in power. So when we talk about the use of condoms, people do not realise that if a child or even a woman demands that the madam let's them a condom, they can either be abused, they can either be beaten, they can either be burned because they are paid more money when they are not using condoms. Also because in many countries, including India, Africa and many countries in South East Asia, there is the belief that if a man who has HIV/Aids sleeps with virgin, especially if it is child, he will be cured from the disease.


    Newshost:

    Our first e-mail is from Linda, England: Clearly we are not doing enough, as the terrifying figure of 40 million people infected shows. Do the guests find the level of ignorance about this disease is quite incredible, given the many information campaigns over the years?

    Can I put that question to you Simon. Just tell us something very briefly about the Terence Higgins Trust before you answer the question if you wouldn't mind.


    Simon Nelson:

    We're 20 years on from the epidemic. Terence Higgins was the first known case in the UK as someone dying of Aids and since then the Terrence Higgins Trust has been working closely with populations largely at risk of HIV in the UK and also working abroad in bringing attention and raising awareness of HIV/Aids.

    To answer the specific question. Yes, we are doing a lot, we have been doing a great deal. Clearly a lot more needs to be done and education is key to ensuring that we do get the message across. It will take time and 20 years is a relatively small space of time to actually get a message across in terms of the epidemic and what's happening out there.


    Newshost:

    Tom Allen, London: Apart from the lack of an outright cure, what are the biggest obstacles in the fight against Aids?


    Bianca Jagger:

    I think the first one probably is poverty, the second one is education. There is the issue of the lack of funding from governments or from the healthcare for providing anti-retroviral medicines for people. The majority of the people in Third World countries could not possibly afford even one dose of anti-retroviral medicine because that is probably the cost of what they earn in an entire year. When you have people who don't have and don't know whether they are going to have the next meal for their children, of course they cannot afford that.

    But there is as well the issue that we should not forget - the issue of the stigma attached, especially in Catholic countries, especially in religious countries and conservative countries. Also particularly there is the issue of societies where women don't have a say whether a condom is used.


    Newshost:

    Greg, Kamloops, Canada: Don't you think that research money would be better spent on cancer or diabetes? Aids is a disease that will never be cured because of its nature, and I would challenge researchers to admit this.


    Bianca Jagger:

    It will not only affect developing nations. The fact that today you have such an enormous percentage of populations in Africa, in South East Asia, in Latin America and even in China and that many people will die, this will ultimately affect us. We need to find a cure. The international community must invest in developing nations and they should do what the UN is calling for the international community to do, which is to give at least $10 billion a year.


    Simon Nelson:

    We should stop trying to find a cure for Aids. What we do have are preventative measures and we should be going out there with the education and the resources for people to actually prevent the spread of HIV/Aids.


    Newshost:

    We've got an e-mail just come in from Frank, London: When realistically will there be either an effective vaccine or cure available?


    Simon Nelson:

    Well we don't know. What we are doing is trying to actually get out there with the prevention measures. The prevention message is so important whilst we still invest in trying to find a cure but we don't know how far off we are from finding a cure.


    Newshost:

    H S Ng, Singapore: How can I make a positive contribution towards giving help?


    Bianca Jagger:

    I think that we should support organisations like Christian Aid or the Terrence Higgins Trust who are working in developed nations and in the developing world. But we should put pressure as well on governments for example. For those in Great Britain, they should put pressure on the British Government to increase the help that they give to developing nations from 200 million to 750 million.


    Newshost:

    Do you agree with that Simon?


    Simon Nelson:

    Absolutely. I think that one of the important issues the e-mailer is making is that he is actually already debating the issue in the community. What's crucial in breaking down the stigma of HIV is that people are actually starting to talk about it. But yes, there needs to be greater awareness and there needs to be greater communication, both at an international, a national and more importantly at a very local community level. That's where we can actually start getting in and finding out what's happening within communities and getting community leaders, elders involved in the debate and that's the education process.


    Bianca Jagger:

    The issue of education is very important. For example, in India, we need to have the Indian society debating the issue and facing up to the problem of HIV/Aids because what you find in many countries - which is what I found in India - is that the government are in denial. They feel offended when they hear the figures that were put out by the US Government that in 2010 there will be up to an estimated 25 million people infected with HIV.


    Newshost:

    Twenty five million people?


    Bianca Jagger:

    Twenty five million people in India - it's an enormous sum.


    Newshost:

    A projection?


    Bianca Jagger:

    A projection yes. There is still time for India to avert the devastation of Aids. The government should tackle all of these issues now and face up to what they need to do and how they need to help the people. But what you said about the debate and addressing the issue of the stigma, I think that that is a really important issue because a lot of the women who I spoke to in the red light areas who are engaged in prostitution, wouldn't discuss the issue of Aids. They will not go and have a test because they will be completely stigmatised - besides there are no medicines if they were to have a test.


    Newshost:

    Dave Singh, England: I just wonder what steps are being taken to empower drug companies to supply cheap medicine to the third world?


    Bianca Jagger:

    I think that drug companies need to do more and they really have an obligation to be able to provide and to allow governments in developing nations to be able to produce these drugs themselves. And unless and until that is done, HIV/Aids will continue to spread the way it is doing.


    Newshost:

    Harry Fuller, Edinburgh, Scotland: Don't we need to help improve the infrastructure of the poor und underdeveloped countries in order to give people hope and jobs, before we can concentrate their minds on prevention of this cruel disease?


    Bianca Jagger:

    Absolutely, it is what I said, that poverty is fuelling HIV/Aids. I think that in the UN report it talks about the famine in Africa to have been one of the reasons why HIV/Aids has spread in the manner that it has in the whole region of the sub-Sahara Africa.


    Newshost:

    Caroline, Bristol, UK: What tactics can be used in the UK to quell the pompous attitude of "it'll never be me" that seems to have arisen since the last hard line campaign in the late eighties/early nineties; a great deal of people still feel that it is just the homosexual community that is at risk?


    Simon Nelson:

    Well yes, quite clearly one of the things that goes back what we said earlier about education, there has been a recent study of 1,000, 18 - 24 year-olds and it found that almost 19% actually felt that they weren't at risk of HIV. Not only do we need to educate young people before they become sexually active, but what we must also ensure is that they actually have the resources available to make sure that they can look after their own sexual health.


    Newshost:

    Steve, Manchester, England: Aids treatment has suffered from being a political football. It attracts the gay rights fanatics who try to monopolise the disease as a basis for garnering well paid jobs in "Aids charities". They are as much to blame for the public's ignorance about this condition as governments and drug companies.


    Simon Nelson:

    That's purely nonsense. The Trust, for example, has been working very closely with all sections of society to ensure that the HIV message is out there and preventative messages are out there. So this idea that it has been hijacked and used as a political football by trusts doesn't wash.


    Newshost:

    P Morrison, US: Isn't it time to compel mandatory HIV testing and management akin to communicable diseases such as syphilis and tuberculosis?


    Bianca Jagger:

    We have to address that in two ways. For example, the stigma attached to HIV/Aids in some of those countries is such that if you were to have a mandatory test, say in India, for example, people would be discarded and stigmatised. The fear that exists is so enormous - yes, probably, ultimately that's what we need to do but we first need to reform them and for them to understand that HIV/Aids is not a curse - it's a disease like any other disease and that we have to have a more humane approach.


    Newshost:

    But what about the West, do you think that that should be case in western nations?


    Simon Nelson:

    No I don't. What I think we should be doing is encouraging - most of the debate is centered around women whereas men are the transmitters of the virus. What we've seeing with the numbers of women that are being infected is that the message of getting men to test - women are tested when for ante-natal - but we must encourage men to take ownership and come forward for testing in this debate.


    Newshost:

    Richard, UK: Why don't we have the same compassion and understanding of a person suffering with Aids - as we do if we met someone with cancer, for example?


    Bianca Jagger:

    Because they think there has been a moral judgement attached to that people that are infected with HIV and regard them as the culprits. In a conversation that I had in a sheltered home for children that were rescued in India, one of the things that really pained me to see was that these little girls who have been the victims of those who traffic them, believe themselves to be the guilty ones. And some of those girls when they try to escape prostitution and go back to their homes, their parents wouldn't take them back. They considered them to be as if they were a damaged object and not a human being. That tells you a lot about how we have regarded HIV/Aids.

    Even in the West, let's be honest, I have friends of mine who have died of Aids and many of those friends in the beginning did not tell me until the very end that they had Aids because they felt that there was a stigma, a taboo, attached to it and people do not want to say it. So we must understand that now we have more women infected with HIV/Aids, many of those women were infected by their husbands who did not tell them and do not of course allow them to use condoms.


    Simon Nelson:

    In the UK for example, we have some 34,000 people living with HIV, a third of whom don't know their HIV status. So quite clearly what we must encourage is the uptake of testing. Again I re-emphasise the point that it is important to get that message across to men that they do come forward for testing.


    Newshost:

    Kelly, Leeds: When I had my baby I was automatically tested for Aids. Why can't they do this for everyone when they go for a check up at their doctors?


    Bianca Jagger:

    In some ways I feel like she feels, that it probably is very important for mothers to make the decision themselves to have an HIV test and it probably will be very important for people before they get married to have a voluntary HIV test. I think it is a question of education and as well we must ensure that the results of those tests are not used by governments against the people.


    Newshost:

    John Brownlee, England: I know it's a bit late for many but do you think if the Roman Catholic Church were to change its advice on the use of condoms hundreds of thousands of people would be protected from this dreadful disease?


    Bianca Jagger:

    I think it is important the use of condoms but I must say as well that it is important the Catholic Church review this issue. But as well it is important for people to understand that in certain developing nations the answer to stop HIV/Aids is not only condoms. It has to do with education, it has to do with addressing the issues of stigma, it has to do with the issue of enforcing the law so that children are not any more being trafficked and it has to do as well with empowering with women. It also has to do with developed nations having the responsibility to give sufficient aid to the developing nations to be able to buy anti-retroviral medicines.


    Newshost:

    An e-mail just in from Stephen Charles, London: Is it true that the greatest risk is amongst 16 to 25 year-old heterosexuals, as has been reported in the news. I assumed this was a pretty low-risk group because most information is aimed at gay people.


    Simon Nelson:

    Well most information isn't actually directed purely at gay men. The Trust actually has been working with now what has become the highest at risk group - the African communities here in the UK and the message to 16 to 24 year-olds is going out there. Yes, more needs to be done - a great deal more needs to be done - and that will mean getting the educational resources together, getting schools on boards, getting community and religious leaders on board to ensure that young people are equipped with the knowledge and resources in terms of preventing the spread of HIV here.


    Newshost:

    Mike Radcliffe, London: What can I do on a fundamental level that doesn't involve money?


    Bianca Jagger:

    Lobby the British Government, work in the communities to address the issue of stigma attached to those who are infected with HIV, support organisations and NGOs who are working against the spread of HIV/Aids.


    Simon Nelson:

    Get out there and volunteer. By simply adding to the debate, as I said earlier on, he is already making his contribution in his own way in getting others on board to back up what Bianca said is crucial.


    Newshost:

    Ismail Afeef, (Male) Rep. of Maldives: We all know Aids is a fatal disease yet most people don't care. I think we need to educate the people who have Aids and make them feel important in the whole community. Why can't we all join hands and sing the same song in order to fight against the HIV?


    Bianca Jagger:

    I think his message is extremely important. It is about our own humanity and our own compassion that we regard it and that we are able to look towards helping those who are infected with HIV/Aids. This is the important thing which has to do with those who think that we will not get infected with HIV/Aids, that anyone can get infected. For example, there are so many problems attached to even the transfusion of blood. We have seen that in France and indeed many countries - we've seen that today in China, it happens in India - it can happen to any of us.


    Simon Nelson:

    Absolutely. It is interesting that a male should actually turn round in saying these things. Going out to the communities, as I said earlier on, and getting the elders and those that have influence in our communities to talk about this in the same way as he has, is crucial to the debate and crucial to the prevention and spread of HIV.


    Newshost:

    Finally Bianca, a question from me: You've seen so much on the ground, if you had political power, what are the elements of action you would take?


    Bianca Jagger:

    If I had the power, the first thing that I would do would be that we need to have a more equitable world in which developed nations will have the obligation to help the developing world to eradicate poverty because poverty is fuelling Aids in a manner that is becoming uncontrollable. I think that I will make sure that governments who have ratified a convention of the trial, will enforce the law and will bring to justice those who are using children and trafficking children. And I will make sure that the pharmaceutical companies will have a different policy vis--vis of the anti-retroviral medicine so that those who cannot afford it in the developing nations have access to have them.


    Newshost:

    Bianca Jagger and Simon Nelson thank you so much for joining us. Many thanks to you the viewers on the internet and digital satellite television for your questions and of course for watching. From me, Andrew Simmons, goodbye.


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