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UN: Progress Being Made on Combating HIV/AIDS

  • Margaret Besheer

World leaders are meeting at the United Nations this week seeking to assess progress on ending global poverty, hunger and disease within the next five years.

Each day more than 7,400 people worldwide are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Globally, 33 million people are living with the virus, two thirds of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

But UNAIDS head Michel Sidibé says despite the numbers there has been significant progress in the fight against this epidemic.

"For the first time we have a reduction [in new infections] by 25 percent in the 22 most affected and infected countries in Africa," noted Sidibé. "That is important because it is not just reducing the number of new infections, it will reduce the cost of treatment, because the queue for treatment will be reduced."

Some of the countries with the largest epidemics, including South Africa, Zimbabwe and Nigeria, are leading the drop in infection rates. The UNAIDS chief says it shows that prevention is working across all levels of society.

Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Executive Director Michel Kazatchkine says continued progress will take substantial financial commitments from the international community.

"It will take resources and that is a very difficult issue these days given the crisis, given the budget constraints for donors," said Kazatchkine. "From a Global Fund perspective, we have talked to the donors and said for the next three years, we would need somewhere between $13 [billion] and $20 billion for the three years in dollars."

Kazatchkine acknowledges this is a lot of money in a time of austerity. But he says it is an investment that will save millions of lives.

In many cases, the various Millennium Development Goals are interconnected. For example, progress in fighting malaria, which kills one child somewhere in the world every 45 seconds, can also lead to progress toward Goal number 4, reducing child mortality. There is a similar connection between combating HIV/AIDS and improving maternal mortality, which is Goal number 5.

"When it comes to AIDS, you cannot really separate AIDS from sexual and reproductive health or maternal mortality," noted Kazatchkine. "Over 50 percent of deaths in women between the ages of 15 to 49 in Africa are from AIDS."

Both men believe it will be possible to come close to the disease-reduction targets for Goal 6, if not reach them, on schedule. But they say predictable, long-term financing must be secured, affordable drugs must be obtained, national health systems must be improved and discrimination against people living with such diseases as HIV/AIDS must be eliminated.

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