Michel Sidibe, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, said yesterday that he is worried that funding commitments to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic are in jeopardy because of the global financial crisis.
An estimated 33.2 million people worldwide are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS and 25 million have died so far from the fatal and incurable disease. Africa is the hardest hit continent. Last year 1.7 million people died there because of the disease.
In 2005, at the G8 summit in the Scottish town of Gleneagles, the world’s wealthiest industrialized democracies promised to provide universal access to anti-HIV drugs in Africa by 2010 — an undertaking costing billions of dollars. As a result, 3.5 million people in Africa began treatment. Now, as countries focus on trying to revive their own economies it is feared that money earmarked for fighting AIDS will be diverted for other purposes. Already, Global Fund, which pools donations to fight infectious diseases, has reported that it is $4 billion short of the amount needed to fund AIDS projects it was already running or had committed to financing.
The challenge facing the world right now is how to fix the economy without losing our compassion. The financial crisis does not absolve us from our responsibilty to be care for the most vulnerable among us. Wealthy nations have a moral obligation to keep their promise to help Africa fight AIDS. We must not abandon people on treatment or leave Africa’s 14 million AIDS orphans without help. Now is not the time for the world to falter in its committment to making drugs and treatment, particularly for the poorest of the poor, accessible and affordable.