OPEC funds UN anti-AIDS efforts in Arab region, Central America and Caribbean

OPEC funds UN anti-AIDS efforts in Arab region, Central America and Caribbean

Efforts to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Arab region, Central America and the Caribbean will be given a boost under a new initiative launched today by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

The OPEC Fund for International Development is providing $3.2 million for the programme in Central America and the Caribbean, which is designed to reduce vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, particularly among youth and mobile populations, in Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras and Saint Lucia.

HIV prevalence rates in the Caribbean are the second highest in the world after sub-Saharan Africa, according to the UN. About 1.9 million people in Central America and the Caribbean live with HIV/AIDS, and 200,000 people acquired the virus there last year alone.

The OPEC-funded programme for the Arab region will raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and strengthen national efforts to detect and respond to the pandemic, particularly among vulnerable groups, in Lebanon, Morocco, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Somalia, the Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The $1 million project will train community workers to deal with reproductive health issues affecting youth, including the prevention of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

Although AIDS has spread more slowly in the Arab region than elsewhere, there were an estimated 80,000 new infections there last year, bringing the number of infected people in the region to 500,000. Because efforts to prevent and control the disease are weak, UNFPA says, the number of cases could rise quickly.

"The partnership between UNFPA and the OPEC Fund is a significant contribution to the global fight against HIV/AIDS," said UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid of the new three-year initiative. "It is a good example of how donors can pool resources to scale up information and services to prevent further infections and save lives."

Dr. Y. Seyyid Abdulai, Director-General of the OPEC Fund, described HIV/AIDS as a major challenge which demands priority attention. "We need a healthy and active global population if we are to move development forward," he said.