African Leaders Must Make Fight Against HIV/AIDS Top Priority, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan Says
African leaders must make fighting HIV/AIDS their top priority and international donors must increase their support of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today in a speech in Mozambique at the African Union Summit, Reuters reports. "(Make) the fight against AIDS a priority second to none," he said to African leaders at the meeting, adding, "Africa's efforts are being systematically undermined -- by a virus so cruel that it strikes young adults as they are poised to enter their most productive years, and assume the mantle of leadership." Annan continued, "Spending on the fight against HIV/AIDS by African governments, the U.S. and the E.U. has risen significantly, but it is still not enough. Twice as much is needed, this year, next year, and every year, for the foreseeable future" (Reuters, 7/10). UNAIDS estimates that governments, international organizations, foundations and nongovernmental organizations in 2003 will spend an estimated $4.7 billion to address the AIDS epidemic in low- and middle-income countries, but that amount is less than half of the more than $10.5 billion that will be needed each year by 2005 to fight the epidemic in those countries (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/27).
UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot, speaking at the summit's Global Forum on Health and Development -- the first-ever international videoconference on AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria to be held at the summit -- said, "Only if AIDS is rapidly brought under control will social and economic development be able to flourish. This can become a reality if African leaders make it their business to invest in both AIDS prevention and care and treatment" (UNAIDS release, 7/10). Only about 50,000 of the 30 million HIV-positive people in Africa currently receive antiretroviral drugs, according to Reuters. "The price at which antiretrovirals are available to developing countries has dropped significantly, but technical facilities and sustainable financing are still major barriers," Piot said (Reuters, 7/10). Piot added, "African governments must seize the opportunity to expand access to HIV care and treatment in their countries" (UNAIDS release, 7/10).
A kaisernetwork.org HealthCast of the videoconference forum will be available online at noon ET today. Other participants include Richard Feachem, chair of the Global Fund; Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF; Hoosen Coovadia, head of the department of pediatrics at the University of Natal; HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson; Helene Gayle, director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's HIV, TB and Reproductive Health Program; and Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.