The world will not meet its goal of halting and reversing the spread of AIDS in 10 years if the disease continues to race faster than efforts to stop it, a senior U.N. AIDS specialist said on Thursday.
Presidents and prime ministers, meeting at the United Nations nearly five years go, set a series of Millennium Development Goals, among them halting and beginning to reverse by 2015 the spread of AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes it.
“We are still moving into a globalization of the AIDS epidemic, think of eastern Europe, central America, Asia, and maybe tomorrow, the Middle East as well,” Peter Piot, head of the U.N. campaign, told a news conference during a high-level meeting of 127 delegates.
“I think it is a realistic (goal) in many countries, but not in every country in the world,” Piot said.
More than 39 million people are living with the disease, despite $8 billion in anticipated spending this year, most of them in Africa. Piot said the funds and programs had made the most impact in East Africa, from Ethiopia to Rwanda, but not in southern Africa or in West Africa.
In his opening address and report to the one-day meeting, U.N. Secretary-General Annan said only 12 percent of those who needed treatment are receiving it. He also said effective prevention programs, counseling and testing services were the exception to the rule and drugs still cost too much.
“Last year saw more new infections and more AIDS-related deaths than ever before,” Annan said. “Indeed, HIV and AIDS expanded at an accelerating rate on every continent.”
Programs have succeeded in Brazil, which has the most successful AIDS project among developing nations. Cambodia and Thailand also showed substantial progress, Annan said.
HIV infection is a viral infection caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that gradually destroys the immune system, resulting in infections that are hard for the body to fight.
But some of the worst predictions have come to pass. Nearly half of those infected with HIV are women and girls, whether married or single, promiscuous or faithful.
“The trend is that more young women are being infected than young men,” Thoraya Obeid, the head of the U.N. Population Fund. “If they are married, they can’t abstain. They are faithful but the husband is not faithful.”
Women, she said, need information, including how to use a female condom to protect themselves, often a sensitive issue, particularly among conservative U.S. religious groups who favor abstinence-only programs and oppose programs for prostitutes, homosexuals and drug addicts.
Worldwide, the U.N. report said, some $8 billion will be available in 2005 to fund programs in 135 low- and middle-income countries, a dramatic 23 percent increase over the previous year. Of this amount, rich countries have contributed some $6.7 billion, six times more than the world spent in 2001.
The money comes mainly from the United States, which spent $2.4 billion last year, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria - an independent organization of governments, business and private groups first proposed by Annan four years ago.
The U.S. monies make up a third of the fund’s total budget, while Europeans contribute 55 percent. A global task team said at least $8 billion more is needed over the next three years for prevention, testing and treatment programs around the world.
Another $350 million per year should be spent for vaccine research and development, said Gareth Thomas, Britain’s undersecretary of state for international development. Experts say a vaccine is 20 years away and perhaps the only remedy.
Revision date: July 5, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD