Engage with Africa to fight AIDS: Geldof

Bob Geldof (AAP)

Sir Bob Geldof has told a Melbourne conference that AIDS in Africa must be addressed by defeating poverty.

Activist Bob Geldof has called for increased aid and economic engagement with Africa to help combat the continent's AIDS pandemic.

The Irish musician who led the Live Aid and Live 8 concerts said Africa was home to seven of the world's 10 fastest-growing economies, but was also blighted by rising HIV infection rates.

Stressing "the spread of this pandemic is to do with poverty", Geldof called on engagement with the continent, which he said was being undermined by the virus.

"It takes out the young, it takes out the most productive parts of the economy," he told the AIDS 2014 conference in Melbourne on Thursday.

"How we get out of this mess is by bringing the 50 per cent of the world who live on less than $2 a day ... you need to bring that 50 per cent into the (global economy)."

Geldof was critical of Australia's decision to cut overseas direct aid. He also predicted Africa would be a leading food exporter by 2040.

"The last remaining 60 per cent of arable land is in Africa," he said.

"When I wrote Feed the World in 1984, I didn't actually expect it would be Africa that will be doing it."

The humanitarian's address received a standing ovation, but not everyone was enraptured - a handful of delegates walked out of his session.

A conference delegate and health promoter in the HIV sector, Christian Vega, said the conference's headline speakers were the least inspirational.

"We've heard so much amazing work that is happening on the ground with key affected communities, we've heard about the importance of empowering those communities to speak for themselves," Mr Vega told AAP.

"So it's disrespectful for someone like Sir Bob Geldof to get up there and deliver a discussion that is absolutely dismissive of a lot of the amazing work that is happening on the ground."

He said some of the language used by key speakers, such as describing sex workers as "hookers" - which Geldof did - perpetuated stigmas the were among the key barriers to HIV prevention.

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