World leaders urged to keep promises to fight AIDS

By Pascal Fletcher

DAKAR (Reuters) - Several hundred African anti-AIDS campaigners paraded giant puppets of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy Tuesday to demand that they deliver promised funds for plans to fight the disease.

Waving some banners reading “African children are watching you” and others supporting AIDS victims, the demonstrators, most of them dressed in white, marched through a central avenue of the Senegalese capital Dakar. They included many children.

Giant puppets, each nearly four meters (yards) high, represented Obama, clad in a blue jacket, red bow tie and red-and-white striped trousers, and Sarkozy, dressed in a black coat with a handkerchief in the French colors spilling from a top pocket.

A big red-and-yellow spiky ball representing the AIDS virus was carried between them by marchers wearing white gloves.

The campaigners, gathering on the eve of an international conference on AIDS in Dakar, said the demonstration aimed to remind the U.S. and French leaders not to forget their multi-million dollar commitments to anti-AIDS programs.

“They have to walk the talk … the pledges they have made must be fulfilled,” said Velephi Riba, a spokesperson for the Save the Children charity which helped organize the march.

Save the Children said that as governments in the rich developed world grappled with the global financial crisis and provided tens of billions of dollars for financial rescue packages, their leaders should not renege on public pledges to help the planet’s poorest, including those suffering from AIDS.

“HIV and AIDS-impacted children in Africa — who have never heard of Wall Street — should not pay the price for the global economic decline,” said Ame David, another spokesperson.

According to Save the Children, U.S. President-elect Obama had recently pledged to provide at least $50 billion by 2013 for the global fight against HIV and AIDS.

France, which holds the rotating European Union presidency, was a leading contributor to HIV-responding initiatives in Africa with funding of 360 million euros ($458 million) yearly.

“Obama and Sarkozy must not drop from these pledges by a single dollar or euro,” Riba said.

An estimated 33 million people worldwide were living with the HIV virus, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, at the end of 2007. AIDS has killed 25 million since being identified in 1981.

An estimated 2.7 million people become infected each year.

Among the Dakar marchers, 11-year-old Abdoulaye Maria carried a banner calling for help for AIDS sufferers.

Asked what AIDS was, he answered shyly: “It’s a sickness.”  Continued…

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