KOBE — Africans with the human immunodeficiency virus stressed to participants of an international symposium here Friday the importance of considering the issue their own and listening to the voices of people living with HIV or AIDS.

The symposium is part of a two-day event at Comista Kobe to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS.

Various discussions, displays and workshops are also taking place.

The event is being held in the buildup to the Seventh International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, to be held in Kobe in November 2003.

Asunta Wagura, director of the Kenya Network of Women with AIDS, said people with HIV and AIDS can play a major role in raising public awareness, although they are not being given such an opportunity.

“I wasn’t given an opportunity to study and work (after being diagnosed with HIV in 1988),” Wagura said.

Overcoming stigma and discrimination, Wagura and other HIV-positive women created the network in 1994. It now boasts a membership of more than 2,000.

The group’s activities include supporting infected women, providing them with health care, taking care of children who lost their mothers to AIDS, and educating the public on the epidemic.

Another speaker, Pholokgolo Ramothwale, a local coordinator of South African advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign, called on the audience to pressure the Japanese government to make it possible for infected people in Africa to get access to expensive medicine.

TAC’s main aim is to ensure that people with HIV and AIDS receive proper treatment.

“HIV is not a problem of Africa or of poor people,” said Ramothwale, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1998. “AIDS affects everyone.”

As of December 2001, there were some 40 million people worldwide with HIV or AIDS, according to a U.N. body on the disease. While the largest number is in Africa, health experts warn that the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan, is on the brink of an HIV/AIDS explosion.

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