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Red Cross/Red Crescent to Shift Funds from Disaster Relief to Disease Prevention

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says it is shifting its spending away from disaster relief to the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, especially HIV/AIDS in Africa. The organization says illnesses are much bigger killers than natural disasters, particularly in developing countries.

The Red Cross Federation says it is still spending most of its money on natural and man-made disasters. But, the head of the federation's Health and Care Department, Alvaro Bermejo, says the emphasis is shifting to fighting infectious diseases.

"This is a realization and a programmatic translation of the fact that 13 million people die every year from infectious diseases while around 30,000 to 100,000 will die on average from natural disasters," he said. "It is a realization from the Red Cross that it needs to adjust programmatically to this reality if it is going to be true to its principle of alleviating and preventing human suffering."

Dr. Bermejo says health programs will account for more than 40-percent of the nearly $170 million the Red Cross has budgeted for humanitarian operations during the coming year. He says about 100 countries, 40 of them in Africa, will benefit from Red Cross support. He says the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa is a key concern.

"In Africa, health and food security are the two biggest areas," he said. "And, they are both linked in a way by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which requires, if you want, a health response, but also a food security response, to make sure that people living with HIV do not starve to death due to their inability to continue working and to work in the fields… And, you will also see the Red Cross engaging in making anti-retroviral therapy available to people living with HIV and AIDS in Africa and other parts of the world."

In Asia, where the Red Cross runs its second-largest program, Dr. Bermejo says fewer people have become infected with HIV, the virus which causes AIDS. Therefore, he says the agency will focus on AIDS prevention programs rather than treatment.

He says the federation is also stepping up the fight against tuberculosis and malaria.