It is now two years, since the last International AIDS Conference was held in Durban. Looking back at that historic meeting, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot, in an interview with an HDN Key Correspondent team, observed that if Durban 2002 was a wake-up call, Barcelona 2002 is likely to be the “yes, but” Conference.
Piot’s comments come against a background of a new report released by UNAIDS which shows that there are now 40 million people living with HIV, and that 95% of them are in developing countries.
By coincidence another equally important meeting is now underway in Durban. Its main agenda is to launch a new political entity for the whole continent, to be known as the African Union, in place of the Organisation of African Unity. The first act of the new organization will be to endorse the New African Partnership for African Development-NEPAD.
In an appeal from Barcelona to the leaders meeting in Durban, the UN special envoy on HIV/AIDS, Steven Lewis, called on the African leaders to put HIV/AIDS on top of their political agenda.
One of the major targets being set by the African leaders is to achieve a growth rate of 7%, he said. “Such a goal will not be realised if African leaders do not put HIV/AIDS at the Centre of their development agenda.
“How can we achieve economic growth when the AIDS epidemic is producing more orphans, reducing life expectancy and with women constituting more than fifty population of the adult population affected by HIV/AIDS?” he asked.
Latest estimates indicate that HIV/AIDS has reduced the annual rate of Africa’s per capita GDP growth by 0.8%. In the worst affected countries it predicts that HIV/AIDS will reduce economic growth by up to 2%.
In view of the critical importance of including HIV/AIDS on the development agenda of Africa, Lewis said that the UNDP will be sending a representative to the Durban meeting to lobby African leaders to highlight issues of HIV/AIDS in their declaration, when the African Union is officially launched tomorrow.
In another development the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria says it will expand its anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment to over 220,000 people living with HIV/AIDS over the next five years, following grants recently awarded to the fund.
Speaking at a Press briefing this morning a Global Fund board member, Milly Katana, said. “It is just the beginning of much more than can be done to support people who have been fighting this plague with unlimited courage, while lacking any other weapons. Billions more dollars are needed now for more prevention and treatment measures, and we are depending on a caring and generous world to help.”
AIDS 2002 Conference News produced by Health & Development Networks/Key Correspondent Team