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IAVI calls AIDS 2000 boycott threats irresponsible; views conference as critical for developing countries

April 10, 2000

NEW YORK, 10 April 2000—Seth Berkley, MD, president of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), issued the following statement about the XIII International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2000), to be held in Durban, South Africa July 9-14, 2000.

"AIDS 2000 is the first international AIDS conference to be held in a developing country, where the issues surrounding this pandemic are immediate and real.

"More than 95% of new infections occur in developing countries. South Africa has been particularly hard hit. In KwaZulu Natal province, where the conference will be held, between 30% and 34% of all pregnant women are now infected with HIV.

"For the first time in history, conference organizers have gone out of their way to ensure that an international conference is firmly rooted in the issues that affect developing countries. These issues include access to life-saving drugs, strategies for preventing mother-to-child transmission, and the development of a safe and affordable AIDS vaccine.

"For this reason, we are concerned about reports that a handful of individuals are calling for a boycott of the conference because of certain statements by South African government officials. Such calls are irresponsible and wrong. Indeed, the conference provides an unparalleled opportunity to share information and shed light on the critical questions that confront us.

"This is not the time to undercut efforts to address developing country issues, particularly because the next two international conferences are scheduled to be held in industrialized countries.

"As an international organization created to ensure the development of safe, effective and accessible preventive AIDS vaccines, IAVI's mission depends upon open exchanges and collaboration among all interested parties, including governments, pharmaceutical companies, scientists, public health officials and members of affected communities. AIDS 2000 provides a unique forum for all such efforts.

"IAVI fully supports and applauds the efforts of Durban 2000's organizing committee in planning a conference in South Africa that addresses the critical scientific, political, social, economic and ethical issues we face. We believe this meeting can advance efforts to ensure scientific progress that truly benefits all the people of the world."

The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative is an international non-profit scientific organization founded in 1996 whose mission is to ensure the development of safe, effective, accessible, preventive HIV vaccines for use throughout the world. IAVI's work focuses on three areas: accelerating scientific progress, mobilizing support through advocacy and education, and encouraging industrial involvement in AIDS vaccine development. Its major funders include the governments of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, the World Bank, and the Gates, Rockefeller, Sloan and Starr Foundations.