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President of International AIDS Society Warns of Health Worker Shortages in Developing Countries

– Wednesday, the UN General Assembly opens a three-day session on HIV/AIDS. The meeting is actually a five-year review to assess the progress made at a special session in 2001. At that time, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS.

One of those who’ll be attending the meeting is Dr. Helene Gayle, president of the International Aids Society. Dr. Gayle had previously worked for the US Centers for Disease Control and the Gates Foundation. She says the draft political declaration of the UN meeting fails to address the rights and safety of healthcare workers and other HIV professionals.

From London, she told VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua that there’s a critical shortage of health care workers in developing countries:

“For instance, in America, there’s an average of about 25 health workers per thousand people. In Africa, there’s about two per thousand people. So, clearly a major gap if you compare what is available in rich nations like the United states compared to poor nations in Africa and other places,” she says.”

The IAS President says that health workers must be guaranteed a safe and secure working environment.

“People who are caring for people with HIV need to have the protection of a safe environment, the ability to practice universal precautions so that they aren’t at risk for contracting HIV in the workplace. Also to have an environment that is free of stigma, so that they’re not stigmatized for working with people who have HIV or for being involved in prevention activities focused on preventing the spread of HIV. So we want to make sure people have the physical as well as the supportive environment,” she says.

At last years Gleneagles Summit, G8 leaders set a goal of near universal access to anti-retroviral drugs to all who need them. Dr. Gayle says health workers are a crucial element to achieving that goal.

“Clearly having a healthcare worker capacity is critical for being able to scale-up prevention and treatment in Africa and other parts of the developing world that are heavily impacted by HIV. We estimate that somewhere in the range of at least four million new healthcare workers are necessary in Africa to really mount the kind of vigorous response that’s necessary,” she says.