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US War on Terror a 'Grotesque Obscenity' Compared to AIDS Crisis: UN Envoy
Published on Sunday, September 21, 2003 by Agence France Presse
US War on Terror a 'Grotesque Obscenity' Compared to AIDS Crisis: UN Envoy
 

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's special envoy blasted as a "grotesque obscenity" the money lavished on the US-led war on terror given the relative pittance spent on Africa's AIDS orphans and HIV-infected millions.

"Millions of children live traumatized, unstable lives, robbed not just of their parents, but of their childhoods and futures," Stephen Lewis, who is Annan's representative for AIDS in Africa, told the opening of a major conference here.

"How can this be happening, in the year 2003, when we can find over 200 billion dollars to fight a war on terrorism, but we can't find the money to prevent children from living in terror? And when we can't find the money to provide the antiretroviral treatment for all of those who need such treatment in Africa?

"This double standard is the grotesque obscenity of the modern world."

Lewis did not mention the United States by name or give details for the 200-billion-dollar figure.

Earlier, the specialist UN agency UNAIDS said spending on the AIDS war in Africa was at last rising relatively fast, amounting to around 900-950 million dollars for 2002.

"It's half of what we need to confront this epidemic in the continent, but it's already a doubling of what we had a few years ago," Michel Sidibe, a director at the UN's AIDS agency who is in charge of country and regional support.

Sidibe said it was time to smash the myth that Africa was an unsalvageable basket case.

In addition to money inflows from the Global Fund and others, the price of drugs was falling and African governments were working to combat stigma and encourage HIV prevention, he said.

The six-day International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) is a forum held every two years that focuses on specifically African aspects of the pandemic.

Some 8,000 doctors, researchers, policymakers and grassroots campaigners were registered for the meeting.

Today, around 30 million Africans have AIDS or HIV, accounting for around three-quarters of the world's total. Some 15 million Africans have already died, and 11 million children have lost one or both parents to the disease.

From the Sahara to the Cape, one adult in 11 has the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) on average.

Yet, at the end of last year, only 50,000 people had access to antiretroviral therapy, the drug "cocktail" that has made HIV a manageable condition for millions of people in the West.

The good news is that the cost of antiretrovirals in developing countries has fallen dramatically, thanks to price cuts by big pharmaceutical companies.

And it is expected to slide further, thanks to a World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement in which poor, vulnerable countries will be able to import cheap generic copies of patented medication under a "compulsory licensing system."

The great priority now, said delegates at the Nairobi conference, is how to to distribute them -- quickly, fairly and in ways that ensure that they are not abused and resistance to the drugs develops.

Sidibe sounded the alarm for southern and eastern Africa, warning that the AIDS crisis was locking countries there into a vicious circle.

Economic costs and social tensions were being dangerously amplified by growing numbers of orphans, open to exploitation; food shortages in southern Africa had accelerating the demise of people with HIV; and in some countries as many as half of the police and military had the virus.

"This new crisis ... is reducing the productivity, is changing completely the pyramid of population," he said.

"It is influencing the whole capacity of the state to continue to play its normal function by providing basic services to the people. Schooling is collapsing. The security foundation is completely undermined," he said.

Copyright 2003 AFP

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