UN programmes threatened by spread of HIV/AIDS, senior UN officials say

28 November 2003

Senior officials of the United Nations system, preparing for World AIDS Day on Monday, today warned that the continuing spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and its high cost in social and financial resources are threatening the viability of UN programmes to help poor countries.

“The stark reality we face today is that all development goals, including those set for the Education for All programme, are threatened by HIV/AIDS,” said UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Koichiro Matsuura.

“Prevention is the chief weapon in the spread of AIDS, he said. “This is why UNESCO places such emphasis on accelerated and culturally-appropriate preventive education programmes that target in-school and out-of-school young people.”

Global collaboration was necessary if substantial progress in combating the disease was to be made over the next 20 years, he said. “Our humanity is being challenged by the most devastating epidemic in recent history,” Mr. Matsuura said. “History will judge us on our response to it.”

In an essay on HIV/AIDS among refugees, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, noted that recent studies show that in some AIDS-stricken countries, “refugees have lower HIV prevalence rates than the surrounding populations that host them.”

The studies recommend that those refugees who are infected should be included in the host countries’ efforts to fight AIDS, he said, because excluding them, when they interact daily with their hosts, is “nonsensical in a public health sense.” Part of the responsibility for including refugees in national programmes rests with the donor community, he said.

“Over the last two years, UNHCR and its partners have worked with refugees to improve programmes for refugees. However, our funds are limited,” Mr. Lubbers said.

The UN’s umbrella AIDS-fighting programme, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and one of its co-sponsors, the UN World Health Organization (WHO), said they would unveil on Monday the detailed strategies of a programme they have outlined, the 3 x 5 initiative, on how to get anti-retroviral medicines (ARVs) to 3 million people in the hardest-hit countries by 2005.

WHO Executive Director Lee Jong-wook said recently that some 6 million people in developing countries have HIV infections that require anti-retrovirals, but fewer than 300,000 are being treated. In sub-Saharan Africa, where most of the people in need of treatment live, only 50,000 people are being treated.

The World Food Programme looked forward to the 3x5 initiative, but WFP Executive Director James Morris said, “It is critical to bear in mind that successful treatment with ARVs also depends on safe water and a diet rich in energy, protein and micronutrients. And this is a luxury most people living with HIV in the developing world simply don’t have.”

WFP assistance has been helping to prolong the lives of people living with AIDS, the programme said in a release. Its food aid also has helped to relieve children of their increasing responsibilities as breadwinners and caregivers, thus enabling them to return to school or take up vocational training, it said.

No one should have to make a choice between spending money on bus fare to the nearest clinic and buying basic foodstuffs, Mr. Morris said.


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