Development & Aid, Europe, Headlines, Health, Poverty & SDGs

Lack of Funds Hampers Global Fight Against AIDS

Mehru Jaffer

VIENNA, Jul 26 2010 (IPS) - The global conference on AIDS in Vienna last week will be remembered for “Broken Promises Kill”, a slogan echoed by a coalition of activists who had gathered from around the world.

Throughout the week-long conference, demonstrators clamoured for attention to the funding crisis severely impacting the global fight against AIDS.

“It is important to bring the urgency faced by the AIDS crisis to as many people as possible,” Dr. Nafis Sadik, United Nations special envoy to AIDS in the Asia and Pacific region told IPS as she sidled past a crowd of demonstrators.

“This noise is to force people to recognise the crisis. It is not a party. It is a meet to confront AIDS, health and the failure of governments to live up to their responsibility,” a protester from the crowd said amid the din of sloganeering.

The conference attracted 19,300 people, including scientists and advocacy groups from 193 countries. The chief slogan of the conference was “Right Here, Right Now”. In about 248 sessions, a large number of success stories in the fight against AIDS were narrated.

The past decade has seen a slowdown in AIDS related deaths, hospitalisation and new infections. Timely investment in AIDS has strengthened health systems, reduced TB and malaria deaths, improved maternal and child health and built community reduction engagement in public health efforts like never before.

The role of social media in combating HIV was emphasised at a session on Social Media Lab for Clinicians and Health Care Workers. Alliances and partnerships for health promotion, speakers argued, will encourage an evidence-based response in the media to the complex public health challenge.

“A working group has been empowered to develop a work plan and a road map for a Global Alliance of Social Media and is a responsible response to HIV,” Joe Thomas, editor AIDS ASIA e-Forum told IPS.

However, the conference was overshadowed by much grim news like the lack of funds and inadequate government response around the world to provide universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2015.

Austria’s Dr. Brigitte Schmied, AIDS 2010 local co-chair, said in her concluding remarks that the conference had an important impact on her government’s understanding of the epidemic.

“Based on new insights gained during the conference, Austria promises to make new contributions to the Global Fund in the near future,” she announced.

But not many other governments pledged funding support.

“Vaccine research costs money. Treatment is very expensive and we need funds for prevention programmes,” Dr. Sadik said about the growing crisis in funding for AIDS care and prevention.

There are some concerns over the decision by the U.S. government to cut funding, and it is feared that some European governments are also pulling back their support for AIDS care. Governments in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe too have failed to live up to their commitment to fund AIDS treatment, experts say.

The Group of Eight (G8) industrialised nations, the European Commission (EC) and other donor governments gave 7.6 billion dollars for AIDS relief in developing countries, down slightly from 7.7 billion dollars in 2008.

Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS reiterated during the conference that reduction in funds will roll back all the progress made in the last decade.

Currently, five million infected people receive treatment, but ten million are on the waiting list. New drugs have been tested and released but there is often a shortfall. Universal access to HIV treatment is denied to the majority of people infected with the virus. Early treatment alone, experts say, can help the world to meet the 2015 target of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

“The sharp rise last year in the number of people receiving treatment is an extremely encouraging development,” said Hiroki Nakatani, Assistant Director-General for HIV, Tuberculosis, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases of the UN World Health Organisation (WHO).

“Starting treatment gives us an opportunity to enable people living with HIV to stay healthier and live longer,” added Gottfried Hirnschall, Director of HIV/AIDS at WHO.

HIV-related deaths can be reduced by 20 percent between 2010 and 2015 if guidelines for treatment are broadly implemented, experts say. It can also help in preventing infections such as TB, the number one cause of death for people with HIV. WHO noted that deaths from TB can be curbed by up to 90 percent if people living with both HIV and TB begin treatment in the early stages.

Statistics released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reveal that an HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is intensifying at an alarming pace, fuelled by drug use, high-risk sexual behaviour and high levels of social stigma. Marginalised young people are exposed daily to high risks of contracting HIV, including drug use, commercial sex and other forms of exploitation and abuse. The region is home to 3.7 million injecting drug users, accounting for a quarter of the world’s total number of drug users.

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