ECOSOC panel examines factoring HIV/AIDS into relief operations

15 July 2003
Carolyn McAskie

Aid to conflict-torn countries must incorporate the fight against HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases into ongoing humanitarian relief operations, a panel of United Nations relief officials stressed during a discussion at the annual session of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in Geneva.

Carolyn McAskie, Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said all sectors must work together to respond to the tragedy of HIV/AIDS and its impact on humanitarian emergencies.

Moderating the ECOSOC panel held yesterday, Ms. McAskie said of particular concern were populations torn by conflict, which had the capacity to further the spread of HIV/AIDS through violations of human rights, including rape and sexual abuse.

Communities in complex emergencies were particularly vulnerable to communicable diseases due to displacement, overcrowding, malnutrition, poor water and lack of sanitation, said David Nabarro, Executive Director for Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments at the UN World Health Organization (WHO). He said national and local capacity to respond was reduced due to the breakdown of public health systems.

Michel Sidibe, Director of the Country and Regional Support Department at the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said the interplay between the pandemic and emergency situations makes it paramount to bridge the artificial divide between humanitarian and development work. Of primary concern, is rebuilding the capacity of institutions weakened by AIDS - which means targeting highly affected communities - and integrating the disease into standard humanitarian assessment tool books.

Jean-Jacques Graisse, Deputy Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), said his agency was now devoting a sizeable amount of its attention to the relationship between food security and HIV/AIDS. The international community is witnessing a large-scale emergency fuelled by disease, such as in southern Africa crisis were a deadly convergence of HIV/AIDS, chronic poverty, poor policy environments and food shortages had left millions of people in need of urgent assistance.

Massimo Barra, President of the European Red Cross Network on AIDS, said no organization could defeat AIDS on its own, nor would politically correct speeches and debates change the course of the epidemic. Instead, changes in the policy environment among the governments of affected and donor countries and a collaborative approach among implementing agencies were needed, he stressed.


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