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AIDS Pandemic Termed 'An Unfolding Catastrophe'


The new head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria calls the HIV/AIDS pandemic "an unfolding catastrophe that the world must rise up and prevent." Dr. Richard Feachem says billions of dollars must be spent each year to wage war against the disease.

Dr. Feachem says the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria currently has about $2 billion. But he says that is not nearly enough to combat the pandemic. "The HIV/AIDS pandemic is worse than anything in recorded history," he said. "And the scale of it, the devastation, the instability that it is causing to the most affected countries is just not yet sufficiently appreciated. This is a crisis and a disaster beyond any experience that humankind has previously had."

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is an independent public-private partnership to direct money rapidly to effective prevention and treatment programs. The organization includes representatives of donor and recipient country governments, international agencies, NGOs, and the private sector.

Dr. Feachem is the fund's first executive director, leaving his post as head of the Institute for Global Health at the University of California. He says HIV/AIDS is much more than just a health crisis. "HIV/AIDS is destabilizing," said Dr. Feachem. "It undermines economies. It undermines security. It undermines peaceful relationships among countries and regions. It is destabilizing on an international scale."

He says the scope of the pandemic is well known in sub-Saharan Africa, where about 28 million people are believed to be living with HIV. But says the world is only beginning to realize how serious the situation is in Russia, China and India. "A huge epidemic is emerging, but it is just running 10 or 15 years behind the African epidemic," he said. "So it is later in getting started, but it is on a trajectory [that] will take it to the same point. Now if you can imagine India suffering from a Botswana or a Zimbabwe or a South African type of epidemic, it is gigantic on a global scale in terms of the number of people suffering and the degree of the suffering."

Dr. Feachem says he has three immediate priorities for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The first is to raise more money; the second is to make sure the funds are disbursed quickly to those in need; and the third is build a team to run the fund.

Earlier this year, the fund announced its first grants, committing more than $600 million for the next two years. It will begin accepting proposals for its second round of grants during next week's 14th International AIDS Conference in Barcelona.

Dr. Feachem calls the AIDS gathering a "call to arms" in the war against the disease.

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