Monday, December 3, 2007

World Aids Day: the battle has only just begun - U2

Last year, a special issue of The Independent, edited by Bono, introduced a new way of raising money to fight HIV/Aids. Since then, the (Red) initiative has raised more than $50m and helped more than one million people. In an exclusive interview, Bono tells Paul Vallely why people in rich nations can make a difference to the Aids disaster
Published: 01 December 2007

In a world of calibrated cynicism here's something unabashedly positive to celebrate today to mark what is the 20th occasion that people across the globe have commemorated – if that's the right word – World Aids Day. The words come from the man who is now as honoured as a campaigner against extreme poverty as he is as front man for the world's biggest-selling rock band.

"Three years ago," says Bono, the lead singer of U2, "there was virtually no one in Africa on antiretroviral drugs. Now you'll have two million by the end of this year."

Two million is, of course, only a fraction of those affected by the disease which has to date killed more than 25 million people – making it one of the most destructive epidemics in human history. Another estimated 40 million people are now living with HIV. But the international community is, for the first time, showing real signs of progress in combating the disease on a significant scale.

That fact is, in no small measure, down to the campaigning of the impassioned Irish vocalist, who has lobbied governments for action and corralled some of the world's biggest businesses into playing their part – which is why this newspaper, for the fourth time, turns itself (Red) today.

Since it was founded 20 months ago, (Red) has donated an extraordinary $50,005,410 (£24,324,379) to the Global Fund to fights Aids, TB and Malaria. "Do the maths," says Bono. "It costs about $5 a week to pay for the two pills a day it takes to keep someone with HIV alive."

Aids is no longer a death sentence. Antiretroviral medication will bring someone who is at death's door back to virtually full health. Doctors call itthe Lazarus effect.

More than 20 per cent of all funding to fight Aids now comes from the Global Fund. An extra $50m in its coffers means that a million people who would previously have died have are being kept alive, day in day out, seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year. That is in addition to the extra anti-Aids drugs being provided by governments under the Gleneagles promises. It is nearly double the numbers treated by the Global Fund the year before. "That's what readers of The Independent helped kick off and there's a lot more where that came from."

Finish the article in The Independent

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