July 1, 2009 / 7:46 PM / 10 years ago

Recession must not derail AIDS fight-UN official


* UNAIDS chief says worried funding commitments in jeopardy

* World has "moral obligation" to help Africa fight AIDS

* Official says Global Fund has $4 bln budget shortfall



By Christian Lowe

SIRTE, Libya, July 1 (Reuters) - The world’s rich nations must not allow the global downturn to distract them from their commitment to help Africa stem the spread of HIV/AIDS, the UN’s top official in the fight against the disease said on Wednesday.

Michel Sidibe, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, said he was worried that money earmarked for fighting AIDS in Africa at a Group of Eight (G8) summit four years ago could be diverted as governments focus on reviving their own economies.

"Before this financial crisis, the world came together and this solidarity helped put more than 3.5 million people on treatment," Sidibe told reporters on the sidelines of an African Union summit in the Libyan city of Sirte.

"I am very concerned because ... the leaders of this world have the political obligation, or responsibility to really fix the market but they have also the moral obligation to not abandon those ... people on treatment and not to break the hope of the 14 million (AIDS) orphans," he said.

"If we don’t make sure the macro-economic adjustment which will be made is made with a human face, we will find ourselves with those millions of orphans without any care, without any education, without any support, and where will they be?"

"They will be child soldiers, they will be children in the streets and they will be the reservoir for any type of manipulation," he said.



FUNDING SHORTFALL

An estimated 33.2 million people worldwide are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS and 25 million have died so far from the fatal and incurable disease.

Africa is the worst-hit continent. Sidibe, who took over as head of UNAIDS in January, said in the last year 1.7 million people on the continent died after contracting the disease.

At the G8 summit in the Scottish town of Gleneagles in 2005, the world’s wealthiest industrialised democracies promised to provide universal access to anti-HIV drugs in Africa by 2010 — an undertaking costing billions of dollars.

Even before the global downturn, non-governmental groups that campaign on AIDS said the G8 states were not providing adequate funding to meet their target.

In one example of the funding squeeze, Sidibe said the Global Fund, which pools donations to fight infectious diseases, was $4 billion short of the amount it needed to fund AIDS projects it was already running or had committed to financing.

"It will be very tragic to see that those resources will be stopped," he said. (Editing by Editing by Richard Balmforth)



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