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Pledges must be turned into action to combat AIDS in Africa, UN agency says

Pledges must be turned into action to combat AIDS in Africa, UN agency says

The commitments made at international conferences on AIDS this year must be turned into action if the epidemic is to be effectively pushed back in Africa and other seriously affected areas, the head of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said today.

"From the Abuja conference in April to the UN special session on HIV/AIDS in June, there have been ample promises of resources and political will," UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot told a news conference for the 12th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. "It is now time to turn those commitments into action."

In his remarks, Dr. Piot pointed out that there were many possible sources of funding for "scaling up" AIDS efforts from community to national levels, essential to linking local, district, national and regional decision-making. AIDS spending in developing countries must also rise to $7 billion to $10 billion a year, he added; sub-Saharan Africa currently spends only one-tenth of the $4 billion the continent needs.

According to UNAIDS, the crisis continues to grow in sub-Saharan Africa, where AIDS killed 2.3 million people this year. There were an estimated 3.4 million new HIV infections in Africa in 2001, bringing to 28.1 million the total number of Africans infected with the virus. In 2001 alone, some 5 million people around the world were newly infected with HIV, and 3 million died of AIDS.

At the April summit of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Abuja, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for a global fund to fight infectious diseases and issued a call to action setting priorities for the fight against AIDS. The Abuja meeting marked a turning point in Africa's response to the disease as OAU members pledged to allocate 15 per cent of their national budgets to health in order to fight AIDS and related illnesses.

Two months later the UN General Assembly convened a high-level special session on HIV/AIDS, where Member States unanimously adopted a Declaration of Commitment setting goals and targets and succeeded in focusing the world's attention on the epidemic.