Advances in tackling HIV at risk from economic downturn, warns UN agency

6 July 2009 – The well-being of millions of people could be put at risk as HIV prevention and treatment programmes fall victim to funding cutbacks as a result of the global economic crisis, warns a new report released today by the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Bank.

The report, “The Global Economic Crisis and HIV Prevention and Treatment Programmes: Vulnerabilities and Impact,” says that eight countries – which together are home to more than 60 per cent of all those receiving AIDS treatment – are already facing shortages of antiretroviral drugs or other disruptions to treatment.

In addition, 34 out of the 71 surveyed countries report that HIV prevention programmes focusing on high-risk groups such as sex workers, injection drug users and men who have sex with men are already feeling the impact of the crisis.

“This is a wake-up call which shows that many of our gains in HIV prevention and treatment could unravel because of the impact of the economic crisis,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé.

He added that any interruption or slowing down in funding would be a disaster for the 4 million people on treatment and the millions more currently being reached by HIV prevention programmes.

In 2006, the General Assembly pledged to achieve universal access to comprehensive HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010. A report by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on progress on HIV/AIDS commitments shows that achieving national universal access targets by 2010 will require an estimated annual outlay of $25 billion within two years.

According to a news release issued by the agencies, there are no reports of major cuts in donor assistance for 2009. However, it was reported that current funding commitments for treatment programmes in nearly 40 per cent of the countries examined will end in 2009 or 2010. It is feared that external aid will not increase or even be maintained at current levels.

“This evidence shows us that people on AIDS treatment could be in danger of losing their place in the lifeboat and bleak prospects for millions more people who are waiting to start treatment,” Joy Phumaphi, the World Bank’s Vice President for Human Development, stated.

“We cannot afford a ‘lost generation’ of people as a result of this crisis,” she added. “It is essential that developing countries and aid donors act now to protect and expand their spending on health, education and other basic social services, invest effectively and efficiently, and target these efforts to make sure they reach the poorest and most vulnerable groups.”

The joint report outlines several steps to maintain and expand access to HIV treatment and prevention during the economic crisis, including using existing funding better, addressing urgent funding gaps and monitoring risks of programme interruption. It also recommends looking at sources of financing that can be sustained over the long term.

Addressing a meeting of the General Assembly convened last month to assess progress in the response to the global epidemic, Mr. Ban said the economic crisis should not be an excuse to abandon commitments. Rather, it should be an impetus to make the right investments that will yield benefits for generations to come.

“Now is not the time to falter,” he said, noting that a vigorous and effective response to the AIDS epidemic is integrally linked to meeting global commitments to reduce poverty, prevent hunger, lower childhood mortality, and protect the health and well-being of women.

Source: UN Information Centre