The largest ever conference on AIDS began here with calls for a long-term strategy to defeat the deadly virus.
Peter Piot, executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) said Sunday that an end to the disease was "nowhere in sight," at the start of the 16th International AIDS Conference.
As the global HIV/AIDS epidemic entered its 25th year, Piot said it was time to attack the root causes of the problem in order to halt the disease's spread - namely poverty, discrimination, fear of homosexuality and the repression of women.
AIDS sufferers and carers gathered for a protest march in Toronto ahead of the conference, aiming to highlight calls for more assistance for the 40 million people infected with the virus worldwide.
"Universal access to treatment is possible - now, not later," a petition signed by many of the protestors said.
Under the motto "Time to Deliver," about 24,000 participants from over 170 countries, including aid and youth organisations, universities, research institutes, churches and UN agencies came to Toronto to attend the conference, scheduled to run until Aug 18.
Universal access to already existing medications to combat the disease is expected to be one of the main focuses of the conference. About 90 percent of HIV/AIDS cases are in third world countries, where only one in five sufferers have access to the medication they need.
Another demand is that the pharmaceutical industry lower its prices. For example, Mexico and India are middle-income countries, but anti-AIDS medicines are beyond the reach of many people in those countries.
According to UNAIDS, around $18 billion will be needed to fight AIDS in 2007, rising to 22.1 billion in 2008.
German Development Aid Minister Heidemarie Wiecoreck-Zeul announced that her government would donate 400 million euros (@510 million) in 2008 and again in 2009 to help combat the disease. The United Nations Global Fund to fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis would receive 150 million euros from the total each year, she said.
The 400-million figure could already be reached in 2007, a ministry spokesman said, which is 100 million euros more than previously budgeted.
In addition to funding, a total of 20,000 specially trained medical staff are needed to fill the gap in the number of doctors and nurses required to help people living with the virus, the petition said. The lack of doctors is one of the leading problems in combating the disease.
The petition signatories are also demanding 1 billion voluntary and free HIV tests.