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Economic Crisis May 'Re-Ignite AIDS Epidemic'

Ida Wahlstrom and Jeffrey Allen

Caregivers entertain guests during a presentation ceremony in George, Lusaka, Zambia, Wednesday Nov. 26, 2008. During Thanksgiving week some 16,000 volunteer caregivers are being honored across Zambia, for their work in caring for HIV and AIDS patients and orphans. The event was staged as a national 'thank you' ahead of World Aids Day Dec. 1. In Zambia caregivers are trained and provided with a kit and a bicycle to make it easier to reach patients in remote areas through the RAPIDS consortium of NGOs, led by World Vision and American volunteers, who have assembled 150,000+ kits that help equip local volunteers in countries hard-hit by the epidemic. (AP Photo/Harrison Tuntu)'s take: There is rising concern on World AIDS Day this year that advances in fighting HIV/AIDS in countries like South Africa and Zambia may be reversed as financial woes push donors to rescind funding for the coming year. (See the ActionAid press release below.)

Although government health services have improved in many developing countries in recent years, they are still inaccessible to the rural poor in much of the world. For that reason, community-based HIV/AIDS prevention and care programs remain a crucial part of the global fight against the disease, says the poverty alleviation organization CHF International. "For more than two decades, international assistance has made a marked impact in helping to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS," the group said ahead of World AIDS Day today, emphasizing the need for greater international support for community-based programs. One leader in this field is Pamela Adoyo, a finalist for OneWorld's People of 2008 Award. Her women's group is helping care for the sick, impede the disease's spread, and stitch back together a Kenyan community torn apart by the epidemic.

A recent campaign in another rural part of Kenya showed that when an entire community is offered anonymous AIDS testing through a high-profile campaign, stigma is reduced and more people can be expected to learn their HIV status, according to the international company that ran the program. During the campaign, workers also distributed bed nets and water filters to help fight malaria and water-borne illnesses as an incentive for taking the AIDS test. The "Integrated Prevention Demonstration" reached nearly 80% of the targeted population over six days, according to the company, Vestergaard Frandsen, which hopes its model will be replicated by governments and others working to stop the spread of AIDS worldwide.

Roughly 1,000 people living with HIV/AIDS and their friends and allies recently "inaugurated" Obama as the first U.S. president that will take effective action to end the AIDS epidemic in the United States and around the world. During the presidential campaign, Obama committed to providing treatment and care to all HIV-positive people in the United States. And in what would be a historic move, the president-elect has said he would define housing for affected individuals as "an integral part of HIV services." Internationally, Obama has pledged to advance President George W. Bush's commitment to fighting global AIDS by cutting strings the current administration has tied to funding for efforts to prevent the disease's spread. Ida Wahlstrom reports for OneWorld US.

Some 90 percent of AIDS's victims are carried off in the prime of life, ripping the heart out of a country's social and economic fabric. The loss of teachers, farmers, heads of households, health workers, and even members of parliament in sub-Saharan Africa has disrupted the functioning of public life and undermined poverty reduction plans. Spending on HIV/AIDS in developing countries has increased exponentially, rising from $260 million in 1996 to over $10 billion in 2007, with funds sourced primarily from governments, international development agencies, and philanthropists. The largest single source is the U.S. government, and about 25 percent of all global AIDS projects are granted by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. OneWorld UK's AIDS topic guide explains more about how the epidemic is impacting all facets of life in many countries, and what's being done to stop it.

Economic crisis 'threatens to re-ignite Aids epidemic'

From: ActionAid UK

The current financial crisis threatens to re-ignite an Aids epidemic if donors renege on their promises to fund universal access to treatment, warns anti-poverty agency ActionAid.

"The Global Fund has put on hold funds for 2009 and we are worried about the disastrous impact this will have on people in developing countries," said Leonard Okello, ActionAid's international head of HIV/Aids.

Adequate nutrition together with antiretroviral drugs is crucial to a healthy life yet fluctuating food prices are already affecting the health of millions of people living with HIV.

"Many South Africans who have HIV are poor and the biggest problem we have right now is food prices," said ActionAid Global Youth Network activist, Salamina Motsoage from Orange Farm, south east of Johannesburg.

"Most South Africans receiving treatment are barely eating two proper meals a day and their health is deteriorating," she said.

South Africa has one of the severest HIV/Aids epidemics in the world. About 5.5 million people, or 18.8% of the adult population, have HIV, according to the UN. In 2005, there were about 900 deaths a day.

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki's government recently came under fire for what was believed to be the avoidable deaths of more than a third of a million people as a result of the Aids policies in vogue at the time.

In 2007, an estimated three million people in low and middle income countries were receiving anti-retrovirals - a 50% increase since December 2006 and a 10-fold rise over the last five years.

South Africa, Malawi and Zambia were named as three countries in the Southern African region where the HIV infection rate is stabilising, according to a UNAIDS report in July 2008. While gains are being made with HIV prevention, there are still major setbacks and it is crucial that funding remains a priority.

"There were over 1.1 million Aids-related deaths in east and southern Africa in 2007," said Okello. "This figure represents more than half of all global Aids deaths," he said.

Most developing countries are likely to cut social spending due to falling exports, weakening currencies and declines in foreign investment, yet primary health care in many developing countries, with high HIV prevalence rates, is limited or dysfunctional.

In the absence of adequate funding, countries may resort to other more controversial tactics to reduce Aids related deaths such as compulsory testing and criminalisation of transmission. ActionAid is against these measures because they violate the rights of people with HIV and promote stigma and discrimination.

"Failure to fund HIV could mean the difference between life and death to millions of people in developing countries," said James Kamau, Kenya Treatment Access Movement's Coordinator. "HIV is still a huge priority in Africa."


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