Give our children love, laughter and peace, not AIDS - Mandela

 

Mr Nelson Mandela and pop star Robbie Williams led World AIDS Day events yesterday with passionate pleas to people to use condoms and de-stigmatise HIV/AIDS.

"Be faithful to one partner and use a condom," the former president of South Africa said in a World AIDS Day address. "Let us take precautionary measures. Give a child love, laughter and peace, not AIDS."

No corner of the globe is untouched by the illness, described as the most catastrophic health crisis of our time.

Rock concerts conveyed the message to young people - one of the most vulnerable groups - in Laos, Russia, the Ukraine, Belize and China. "Condom buses" crawled through the streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam distributing condoms. Caravans touting safe sex messages travelled through Romania, Niger and Chad, and an AIDS awareness train reached remoter parts of China.

With 36.1 million people living with the virus and an estimated 5.3 million new infections this year alone, Mr Mandela's plea for safe sex, openness and compassion carried a universal message.

The theme of the 13th World AIDS Day, a global campaign to improve public awareness of HIV and AIDS issues, is "men make a difference".

Britain marked World AIDS Day yesterday with hundreds of events across the country to commemorate victims of the killer illness. As new British figures show that the number of people living with HIV/AIDS is expected to increase by 40 per cent in the next few years, there were candlelight vigils in London and Cardiff, a procession in Birmingham and a fashion show in Dundee.

Robbie Williams symbolically shattered the "wall of silence" surrounding HIV/AIDS, which has killed 21.8 million people worldwide, by smashing through a wall with a 50-tonne crane.

South Africa has a high and growing rate of AIDS, which already infects one in 10 of its population. A reluctance to talk about HIV, much less admit having it, coupled with poverty and ignorance, are fuelling the spread of HIV/AIDS in the developing world. In wealthier nations the problem is one of growing complacency.

"Leaders in all spheres who are living with HIV should be encouraged, not coerced, to lead by example and disclose their HIV status," Mr Mandela said.