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Achieving universal access to services top priority for new UNAIDS chief

Achieving universal access to services top priority for new UNAIDS chief

The new head of the United Nations agency charged with coordinating the fight against HIV/AIDS said today that the achievement of universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010 is his top priority, as he launched the agency’s latest report in South Africa.

The report, entitled “What countries need: Investments needed for 2010 targets,” calls for funding to fill a gap of $11.3 billion out of the total $25 billion needed to meet access goals for that year, according to the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

“It will not be easy to close this gap but it is achievable and absolutely necessary if we are to accelerate the pace of the response to the AIDS epidemic,” said the agency’s new Executive Director, Michel Sidibé, in his first major statement, made at a public meeting at an HIV and tuberculosis clinic in a township on the outskirts of Cape Town.

“Together we will help save lives – by putting more people on treatment, protecting babies and young people from getting infected, and ensuring that a whole generation of children will graduate from school,” he said.

The new report says that one third of the $25 billion in funding needed for universal access is expected to come from domestic sources, with investments from multilateral and bilateral sources needed for the remaining $17 billion.

Of that funding, approximately $9 billion will be used for strengthening health systems and an additional $9 billion for providing HIV-specific health services, while the total will also ensure a fully funded Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a financing mechanism that helps fund national AIDS plans.

Mr. Sidibé said he chose South Africa for his first official country visit as Executive Director because the nine countries of southern Africa continue to bear a disproportionate share of the global HIV/AIDS toll – 35 per cent of HIV infections and 38 per cent of deaths due to AIDS.

He stressed the need for follow through on domestic and international investment commitments to meet 2010 country targets in the region, even though it is feeling the effects of the global economic crisis.

“We cannot let the economic crisis paralyze us,” said Mr. Sidibé. “Stimulus packages and economic adjustments should be made with a human face in mind. A mother should not have to choose between continuing AIDS treatment and feeding her children.”

In a related development, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, will be visiting Global Fund-supported AIDS programmes in Burkina Faso tomorrow, as part of her first official trip as a Global Ambassador for the protection of mothers and children against AIDS.

Almost half of the 130,000 people living with HIV in Burkina Faso are women, while 10,000 are children, UNAIDS said.

During her trip, Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy will meet with health officials and workers involved with Global Fund-supported programmes, visiting a counselling and testing centre in the country’s capital, Ouagadougou, as well as a hospital that serves women and children living with HIV and works to prevent mother-to-child transmission.