Nelson Mandela joined some of the world’s top musicians Saturday in pressing the rich world to act against AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.
“We live in a world where the AIDS pandemic threatens the very fabric of our lives,” the Nobel Peace prize winner said at a star-studded pop concert in Tromsoe, northern Norway.
“Yet we spend more money on weapons than on ensuring treatment and support for the millions infected by HIV.”
More than 15,000 people watched stars including Annie Lennox, former Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant and Peter Gabriel perform inside the Arctic Circle under a clear sky and midnight sun.
The 86-year-old former South African president hosted the concert, which was sponsored by the Norwegian parliament, as part of his “46664” anti-AIDS campaign - named after his prison number during his 27 years in jail under apartheid.
Mandela, who has appeared frail in recent public engagements, smiled broadly and waved to thunderous applause on a giant stage flanked by the sea and snow-capped mountains.
He appealed to the G8 group of industrialized nations to take the lead in helping to end disease and poverty in Africa at their summit in July.
“They have an historical opportunity to open the door to hope and the possibility of a better life for all,” he said.
He made no direct reference to an agreement reached earlier in the day by the G8 finance ministers to write off $40 billion in debt owed by the poorest nations.
Mandela retired from public life last year but remains one of the leading international voices on AIDS.
This year he has also addressed the stigma surrounding the disease in his homeland by disclosing that his only surviving son, Makgatho, had died of an AIDS-related illness.
AIDS has devastated communities in sub-Saharan Africa. About 25 million people are infected with the HIV virus, and millions more contract it each year.
In South Africa, some 12 percent of the population are infected. In Botswana and Swaziland, it is up to 40 percent.
The disease is spreading fast elsewhere. More than a million people are infected in Russia and other former Soviet states, and an estimated 5 million people in India are HIV-positive.
“There is a genocide happening ... and we need to get very upset about it,” former Eurythmics lead singer Lennox said.
Revision date: June 20, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD