Economic Recession, Emerging Diseases Should Not Replace Efforts To Fight HIV/AIDS, IAS President Says
Concerns regarding the H1N1 flu strain or the current global economic recession should not take attention away from the long-term fight against HIV/AIDS, Julio Montaner, head of the International AIDS Society, said recently, VOA News reports. Montaner said global health issues need to be "put ... into the proper perspective," adding, "No doubt that ... whatever new flu or any other epidemic that may show up the day after tomorrow ... is something that we need to respond to. But it cannot be at the expense of a proven, established killer" like HIV/AIDS. He said that although it is important to remain vigilant in detecting emerging epidemics and infectious diseases, "we're (doing) ourselves a very serious disservice" when resources are taken away from combating HIV/AIDS and given to "the next new potential epidemic."
Montaner said that although it is "clear that we failed to meet original targets" in the global fight against HIV/AIDS, there has been an increase in the number of HIV-positive people in developing countries receiving antiretroviral treatments from about 500,000 in 2003 to more than three million by the end of 2007. In addition, he said that antiretrovirals are "saving lives of people" and "preserving the social network, the family structure ... that is so severely compromised by HIV and AIDS." Despite this progress, Montaner said that "[w]e need to recognize more [people] are being infected every day by a factor of nearly two than the number of people accessing antiretroviral therapy."
Montaner urged members of the World Health Assembly -- who recently met in Geneva -- to honor HIV/AIDS commitments, noting that the gains in fighting the pandemic cannot be reversed. He said that he is concerned the global recession, worries over the H1N1 flu and other "competing needs or hypothetical epidemics" could lead to donor nations "losing their interest" in fighting HIV/AIDS. Montaner said that he is disappointed with President Obama's recent $63 billion, six-year proposed global health initiative, adding that it falls short of his campaign promises. He said that IAS is asking leaders from the Group of Eight industrialized nations to "refocus their efforts" and "meet their commitments." He warned that if the commitments are not met, "[h]istory is going to judge us very harshly," adding, "We've been distracted by the epidemic of the day without recognizing that we have a killer within our midst that we can control" (DeCapua, VOA News, 5/21).