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Steps to combat all aspects of HIV/AIDS pandemic

UN agencies urge steps to combat all aspects of HIV/AIDS pandemic

United Nations agencies today used the global forum afforded by a special General Assembly meeting on HIV/AIDS to press for urgent steps to fight the pandemic and all its effects, ranging from providing drugs to 6 million victims in poor nations to feeding the disease's 14 million orphans to educating 2 billion children.

With Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Heads of State and government, agency chiefs and non-governmental activists gathered at UN Headquarters for the High- Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS, a report issued today by the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) warns that the current pace of country activity on the pandemic is insufficient to meet the basic prevention and care goals established at the Assembly's session in 2001.

“Bluntly, unless we significantly increase our financial and political commitments, we will not meet a set of indicators on reducing HIV among young people and infants and implementing care programmes,” UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said at a press briefing at UN Headquarters in New York of the comprehensive framework to halt and begin to turn back the epidemic by 2015.

Although the report highlights the lack of response in many key areas, it does point to progress on some fronts. Of the 103 countries surveyed, 93 per cent have set up comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategies and national bodies coordinating the response, and 88 per cent have increased public awareness through media campaigns, school-based AIDS education and peer education programmes.

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For its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) said fewer than 300,000 of the six million people in developing countries with HIV infections that require antiretroviral treatment are getting the medicine they need. In sub-Saharan Africa, the hardest hit region where most of the people in need of treatment live, only 50,000 people have access.

“To deliver antiretroviral treatment to millions of people, we must change the way we think and change the way that we act,” WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook stressed at a separate press briefing. “Business as usual will not work. Business as usual means watching [8,000] people die every single day.”

WHO said there are medicines to treat people for a $1 a day or less but they are not getting to the people who need them, and that the failure to deliver drugs to the millions in need is a global health emergency.

Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) issued a paper showing how food aid can bring hope to a generation of orphans and other vulnerable children whose lives are scarred by the disease.

The paper, "Widening the Window of Hope," is based on a study in Côte d'Ivoire and Zambia and discusses techniques such as school feeding and take-home rations for families affected by HIV/AIDS.

Worldwide, there are now 14 million children under the age of 15 who have lost their mothers or both parents, more than 90 per cent of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Food can prolong the lives of parents and enable them to have a few more precious weeks, months or maybe even years to work and spend time with their families. "Perhaps we cannot give them hope for a cure, but we can give them time," WFP's Executive Director, James T. Morris says.

Urging the General Assembly to focus on children and young people, UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Carol Bellamy said: "We are not reaching the two billion children and young people who will determine the future course of the HIV/AIDS pandemic."

AIDS has killed 28 million people, and an estimated 42 million are living with HIV and AIDS. Many children and young people now watching their most critical adult caregivers succumb to the disease are those at greatest risk of becoming infected, Ms. Bellamy said. Every day, 6,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 become HIV-positive.

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