Top UN official hails US road map to combat AIDS

31 July 2008

Lauding the United States Government for its massive funding boost to fight AIDS, the head of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said today that the new investment will inject fresh hope for the future.

Yesterday, President George W. Bush signed a new bill into law renewing the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which triples funding to tackle the pandemic to nearly $50 billion over the next five years.

“We are at a turning point in the world’s response to AIDS,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot, who was present at the bill’s “historic” signing in Washington, DC.

“AIDS is not just a short-term emergency, but also a long-term crisis that will require a serious commitment and serious resources for decades, not years, to come.”

Some 33 million people worldwide are living with the disease, with 7,500 people being infected daily.

While the pandemic is not yet over around the world, Dr. Piot stressed that the considerable investment by the US and other nations in HIV prevention, care and treatment has led to fewer AIDS deaths and infections.

Thanks to the new US legislation, “we can look forward with great hope and knowledge that investments made will save lives,” he said.

According to UNAIDS, the new law has removed HIV as a condition for denying visitors entry into the country.

The agency also said that it hopes the legislation will be implemented quickly by the Department of Health and Human Services.

In a related development, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the international drug facility known as UNITAID today announced an infusion of $50 million targeted at slashing mother-to-child HIV transmission.

The funds will test 10 million pregnant women for HIV and treat nearly 300,000 mothers and children in nine countries where one quarter of the world’s HIV-infected pregnant mothers give birth every year. Those nations are: Central African Republic (CAR), China, Haiti, Lesotho, Myanmar, Nigeria, Swaziland, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

“This effort aims to go beyond mere prevention by promoting ongoing treatment for mothers and their babies,” said Philippe Douste-Blazy, who chairs UNITAID’s Executive Board. “Our aim is to fund the most effective and appropriate medicines and diagnostics on the market for both women and children.”

The investment will allow UNICEF to receive lower drug prices, leading to increased treatment for women living with HIV and also enhanced measures to prevent infection in their children. It will also provide a one-year course of anti-retroviral treatment to HIV-positive pregnant women in need in the nine target countries.

Today’s announcement comes ahead of the XVII International AIDS Conference, which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will help open in Mexico City on 3 August.

That event will bring together world leaders, policymakers, academics and activists to review lessons learned and build momentum towards achieving universal access goals by 2010 and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which includes the target of halting the spread of HIV/AIDS – by 2015.

The UN International Labour Organization (ILO) plans to hold events to raise awareness of the pandemic’s impact on the workplace.

Those working in their productive prime are both most at risk of being infected with HIV and most affected by the virus. The ILO said that more than 30 million people globally of working age are living with HIV.

“Workplaces are vitally important for HIV/AIDS information, prevention, non-discrimination and access to treatment,” said Sophia Kisting, Director of ILO/AIDS. “At the same time, we are seeing increasing evidence that the workplace literally ‘works’ as a vital entry point for a whole range of responses to issues raised by the pandemic.”

During the six-day Conference, ILO will also host an advice centre to offer suggestions and materials on how to draft an HIV/AIDS policy.


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