News / Africa

Experts Fear Economic Downturn Is Impacting HIV/AIDS Programs

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Vidushi Sinha

UN agencies report that a decline in donor support, due to the current economic downturn, may compromise crucial programs for HIV/AIDS. The report was released before a meeting this week of major donors to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Experts argue that unless more funds are committed, progress on HIV/AIDS will stall or even reverse.

Rozina Chimbalani's daughter died of AIDS, leaving behind two children.

Chimbalani now takes care of her grandchildren with money she gets from a government program in Malawi. The program provides funds to families lilke Chimbalani's to meet the needs of children and buy their school supplies. "This project has changed my life. If I didn't get a cash transfer I would be miserable and might even have died by now, and the kids would be on their own," she said.



Malawi, like many African countries, has been hit hard by HIV/AIDS. In Africa, orphaned children, in the millions, struggle to survive. Many families are dependent on welfare.

UN agencies report that a decline in donor support, due to the current economic downturn, may compromise crucial programs for HIV/AIDS. The report was released before a meeting this week of major donors to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Experts argue that unless more funds are committed, progress on HIV/AIDS will stall or even reverse.

UN experts praise recent progress in providing support and antiretroviral treatment for people with HIIV/AIDs.  But in their latest report, they argue that programs like Malawi's will be difficult to sustain if contributions from donor countries decrease over the long term. "The current economic context obviously doesn't make it easy, but decreased commitment is not an option as it will eliminate all advances made over the last years," said Dr. Gottfried Himschall, the HIV/ADS director at the World Health Organization.

The report says more lives are being saved than ever before - and eight developing countries are now able to provide HIV/AIDS treatment to all who need it. But for the first time in the history of these programs funding has actually dipped.

AIDS activist Asia Russel says now is not the time to deny help to HIV/AIDs patients. "This faltering response from donors is happening at precisely the moment that we know more about how effectively to respond to HIV in resource poor settings," Russel said.

Activists warn that gains made over the last eight years, including a 17 percent reduction in HIV infection, could be reversed, in part, as a result of funding cuts for the US PEPFAR program.  

"PEPFAR funding, instead of the steady increase that had been committed to, [has] been virtually flat funded. The President has actually requested a $50 million cut to the global fund which has been a very effective multilateral mechanism..."

Donor countries are announcing their pledges for the Global Fund to Fight AIDs, Tuberculosis and Malaria at their meeting in New York. The United States is the largest donor and has contributed more than $5.1 billion so far.

Experts say the Global Fund needs at least $20 billion to sustain current programs.

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