Global meltdown will hit HIV funds: UNAIDS official (Dec 1 is World AIDS Day)

November 30th, 2008 - 3:00 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 30 (IANS) Global economic recession will have an adverse impact on funding to fight HIV and AIDS, but India with its “robust” banking system should not worry too much on this count, says a top UNAIDS official.”So far the funds provided by donors have not been impacted. They are providing us funds. But it may go down in the future,” UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot told IANS during a visit to India.

The country is home to 2.5 million HIV-positive patients, including 70,000 children below the age of 14.

But Piot said India has nothing to worry about as far as generating funds for prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS is concerned. “Your banks are robust and doing well.”

“If the economic situation of a country is bad, it affects its social structure too. The result is poverty, which means an indirect spread of HIV and AIDS,” said Piot.

He said he was basing his observations on past experience when global funding for the fight against HIV and AIDS had gone down when Japan and Nordic countries like Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden faced financial trouble in the 1990s.

“I have seen it happening when countries experience economic downturn. In Japan, after their financial crisis in 1990, they cut development assistance by 60 percent.

“Japan is still recovering, though the Nordic countries have recovered and they have started giving aid,” said Piot, who is also an under secretary general of the UN.

His greatest worry is that governments will cut social sector spending first, which will have a strong impact on HIV and AIDS. “The cut would impact the poorest countries who would not be able to run their otherwise sponsored AIDS programmes,” he said.

Piot, who will complete his term in December after having led the organisation since 1994, said in developing countries, governments may have less income due to recession, which will mean their people will become more vulnerable.

“There could be an increase in sex work and the subsequent fear then is an increase in HIV and AIDS. Usually, in such situations, women are the most vulnerable,” he said.

There are an estimated 33 million people living with HIV worldwide, while 2.7 million people were newly infected in 2007. About two million people died of AIDS last year. Monday is observed as World AIDS Day.

UNAIDS gets funds from a number of countries, Holland and Sweden being the biggest contributors. Various foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and various development agencies are the other donors.

Twenty seven countries, including the Netherlands, Britain, the US, Sweden, Norway and Ireland, were the biggest donors to UNAIDS in 2007.

Said Piot: “Funding is saving lives. Also, it has shown a high return on investments. Fewer people would be impacted with it, which means good investment.

“If they interrupt the treatment and prevention of HIV and AIDS (by cutting down on funds) there would be many people dying of it and obviously it would mean higher bills to pay. They have to act now otherwise they will have to pay later,” Piot said.

At the moment, close to four million people all over the world are on anti-retrovirals, but about eight million more need it, he said.

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