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The eyes of the world are this week firmly fixed on AIDS 2008, the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City.

The week-long conference officially opened on Sunday night, and last night (August 4) featured a rousing speech by former US president Bill Clinton.

AIDS is a very big dragon. The mythological dragon was slain by Saint George, the original knight in shining armor, but this dragon must be slain by millions and millions of foot soldiers,” he told activists, leaders, and experts who gathered for the conference. “We know there is so much yet to be done: to expand prevention, treatment and care, to strengthen undeveloped health systems.”

The conference will draw around 25,000 participants from across the globe, including Oxfam Ambassador Annie Lennox, UN head Ban Ki-moon, Festus Gontebanye Mogae, Margaret Chan, and Keren Gonzalez – a 12-year-old from Honduras who has been actively involved in a number of HIV-related programs aimed at young people since the age of 9, including acting as editor for a magazine aimed at children aged 8 to 12 years affected directly and indirectly by HIV/AIDS.

AIDS 2008 will provide many opportunities for the presentation of important new scientific research and for productive, structured dialogue on the major challenges facing the global response to AIDS. The conference theme of Universal Action Now emphasizes the need for continued urgency in the worldwide response to HIV/AIDS, and for action on the part of all nations. International partners in the event include UNAIDS, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, the International Council of AIDS Service Organizations, the Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS/International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS, the World YWCA, and the Asian Harm Reduction Network.

Bill Clinton flew to the conference from Africa, where he had been visiting projects funded by the Clinton Foundation to fight AIDS and malaria.

“Today 1.4 million people with AIDS are using treatments purchased by the Clinton Foundation,” he said. “Thanks to the efforts of our partners, they cost about 120 dollars a year.”

More information about the conference can be found at www.aids2008.org.

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