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Without beating AIDS, Africa can't reach goals

Without beating AIDS challenge, Africa cannot reach development goals – Annan

Despite an improved commitment in African countries to fighting AIDS, the disease remains the continent’s greatest development challenge, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today told an African Union (AU) summit convened to boost the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria.

“Without defeating it, we cannot reach the Millennium Development Goals,” he said in a message delivered by Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of the UNAIDS programme to the heads of State and government gathered in Abuja, Nigeria.

“That means we must guard against the danger of reducing, even by one iota, the priority we place on fighting AIDS, in Africa and worldwide,” he added. The MDGs, adopted at the UN Millennium Summit of 2000, seek to slash a host of socio-economic ills, such as extreme hunger and poverty, high infant and maternal mortality and lack of access to education and health care, all by 2015.

“Let me emphasize one overarching priority: if we are to win this war, our efforts will have to be guided by the need to promote gender equality and all human rights for all - even those whose orientation, behaviour or life choices we may personally not agree with,” Mr. Annan said.

He also stressed the need to do more in the fight against tuberculosis, which is the leading cause of death among people infected with HIV, and called on Africa’s leaders to commit to full implementation of the Stop TB Partnership's Global Plan’s roadmap for reversing the disease and driving down mortality through the expansion of treatment and prevention programmes.

On malaria, despite a significant increase in international funding for Africa and considerable progress by some countries, the disease continues to kill more than 1 million Africans every year, and puts real constraints on economic growth, he noted.

“To reach our common goal of halving malaria mortality by 2010, we need to do more to strengthen health systems, expand access to therapies and broaden the use of insecticide-treated nets, especially for pregnant women and children under five,” he said.

UN World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa Luis Sambo told African health ministers in Abuja yesterday that the burden of the three killer diseases remains “unacceptably high” and he called on health officials to focus on addressing the specific needs and challenges of children affected by them.

“Reducing child morbidity and mortality remains one of the main challenges due to the high burden of the diseases… and this situation is aggravated by poverty, natural and man-made disasters, and weak health systems,” he said.

Despite the challenges some progress had been recorded, including an increase in access by AIDS patients to antiretroviral therapy from 1 per cent in 2003 to 17 per cent in 2005, and the decline in some countries of the rate of new HIV infections, he added.

He also noted progress in the availability of the WHO-recommended Directly Observed Treatment Short Course (DOTS) for TB treatment in most countries in the region, and the adoption by 36 countries of policies on the use of the more efficacious Artemisinin based Combination Therapy (ACTs) for treating malaria.

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