6 July 2006 Edition

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Women dispro portionately affected by killer disease

The fight against AIDS

AIDS killed some 2.8 million in 2005 and infected another 1.4 million. The figures, although showing a decrease from 2004, when 4.9 million people were newly infected and 3.1 million died because of the virus, illustrate the pandemic proportions of HIV/AIDS.

Despite education projects, studies show that fewer than half of young people have the necessary information about AIDS, while only small numbers of drug users availed of any preventive services. Despite ongoing efforts to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, infection rates continue to rise and, in many regions around the world, young women are disproportionately infected and affected by the disease. In sub-Saharan Africa nearly 60% of those infected are women; in Latin America and the Caribbean, girls are nearly twice as likely as boys to become infected, and in the United States AIDS is now the leading cause of death for African American women ages 25-34.

This is especially true for Africa, which is home to more than 25 million of the 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. In fact, according to Africa Action, a Washington, DC-based non-profit organization working on African affairs, AIDS-related illnesses account for more deaths in Africa than casualties from conflicts.

UNAIDS Report

The latest report of UNAIDS, also highlights how the global supply of condoms was less than 50% of what was needed, and anti-retroviral drugs, while more widely available, remained costly and hard to get. Most importantly, because infected individuals still suffer from ostracism and discrimination, the vast majority of about 40 million infected people in the world have never been tested for HIV and are unaware of their status, it said.

The fight against AIDS, 25 years after the first cases became public, is still very much about resources. While $8.9 billion is expected to be available in 2006 to combat AIDS in developing countries, $14.9 billion will be needed, UNAIDS said. By 2008, it predicted, $22.1 billion would be needed, including $11.4 billion for prevention plans alone. The report recommended more funding, new safeguards to ensure the money goes to those most in need, and ambitious efforts to end the stigma attached to infected individuals, while calling on national and international leaders to transform the global response to AIDS from a crisis-management approach into "a strategic response that recognizes the need for long-term commitment and capacity-building."

The report called for more and better-targeted education and prevention strategies, more treatment opportunities, and more drug research, particularly on drugs for children, whose needs "have been largely left out of the research agenda."

New York conference

So, as world leaders convened in New York for a United Nations meeting to review progress on a 2001 commitment to fight the disease, activists from Zimbabwe, Kenya, and the United States said that since HIV and AIDS tend to target women more than men, programmes to combat the epidemic should do the same. "We will not turn around the epidemic unless we take bold actions that redirect policies, funding, and programs to reflect the global face of AIDS -which is increasingly women and girls," said Yolonda C. Richardson, President of the Washington, DC-based Centre for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA).

However, a united message and strategy is necessary to end the pandemic that has wiped out whole generations in Africa. A united message that the Bush administration, heavily influenced by the Christian right, has made impossible as it blocked key proposals for a new United Nations package to combat AIDS worldwide over the next five years because of its opposition to the distribution of condoms and needle exchanges and references to prostitutes, drug addicts and homosexuals. The United States is being supported by many Muslim countries, including Egypt, and various conservative African and Latin American nations.

US opposition to increased funding targets was overridden during the UN summit early this month. The US wants conditions to be attached to funding, but is being opposed by the Europeans. UNAIDS wants spending to be increased from £4.4bn a year on fighting AIDS to £12bn by 2010. But Washington has opposed this, preferring individual countries to set targets rather than the UN.


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