Africa to make strong representation at UN AIDS meeting

New York- United States (PANA) -- With 17 of its Heads of State and government scheduled to attend the UN General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS, Africa would have the strongest representation at the three-day event opening Monday in New York.
Billed to be the culmination of increasing global efforts to tackle the worst human plague in recent history, the UN meeting is expected to attract 24 Heads of State and government.
Africa's strong presence at the meeting goes to demonstrate the growing recognition by the continent's leaders of the severity of the AIDS pandemic.
In a remarkable demonstration of concern, African leaders had at a summit on AIDS and other infectious diseases held in Abuja, Nigeria in April, decided that each country devote 15 per cent of its annual budget to the health sector, much of the money going to the fight AIDS.
Sub Saharan Africa is most severely affected by the AIDS pandemic.
As at the end of 2000, it was estimated that 36 million people, 25 million of them Africans were living with HIV.
Already the least developed region of the world, Africa's future has been made more bleak by the AIDS pandemic which is claiming the most productive segments including teachers, medical doctors and nurses, engineers and others.
AIDS has left in its wake 12 million orphans in Africa, much beyond the capacity of the communal social safety net to cope.
The most severely affected sub-regions are southern and eastern Africa where prevalence rates are in double digits.
For example, Botswana with a population of just about 1.
6 million, has a prevalence rate of 36 per cent while Namibia, Zambia, Lesotho, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Swaziland have prevalence rates ranging from 20 to 25 per cent.
Nigeria, the most populous African country, has a five per cent prevalence rate, which translates into millions of those infected.
So far, only Uganda is known to have reduced the infection rate from 14 per cent in the early 1990s to eight per cent in 2000.
Senegal has also been successful in slowing down the infection rate with extraordinary national mobilisation efforts.
But Africa's AIDS situation is so dire that the continent's high level attendance at the UN meeting is no surprise.
Among African leaders attending are the presidents of Senegal, Nigeria, Tanzania, Botswana, Uganda, Mali, Kenya and Swaziland.
In all, some 188 national delegations and over 2,000 representatives of civil society groups, medical and other relevant professionals, people living with HIV/AIDS and the private sector will be in attendance.
Apart from formal statements by heads of national delegations and representatives of NGOs and the private sector, discussions would also be held in round table formats focusing on such topics as prevention and care, human rights, socio- economic impact and international funding and cooperation.
A declaration of commitment to be adopted at the session has already taken shape even though a few areas in respect of human rights and vulnerable groups were still being discussed on the eve of the forum.
However, agreement has already been reached on some key goals, including the need to increase annual expenditure on the pandemic to between seven and 10 billion dollars in developing countries and the requirement that by 2003, time-bound national targets be set to reduce by 25 per cent HIV infection among the 15 to 24-years olds in most affected countries by 2005, and globally by 2010.
Other targets in the declaration include ensuring that by 2005 at least 90 per cent of 15 to 24-year olds have access to information and services needed to reduce vulnerability, and that by 2005 the proportion of infants infected with HIV is reduced by 20 per cent, and by 50 per cent in 2010.
Also envisaged is that by 2003, national strategies to strengthen health systems and address factors affecting the provision of HIV-related drugs are developed and urgent efforts made to provide the highest standard of treatment for HIV/AIDS.
And by 2003 national strategies to support orphans and children infected by HIV/AIDS are developed, and by 2005 implemented.
It is expected that the likely shape of the global fund for AIDS and other infectious diseases recently proposed by Secretary General Kofi Annan would become clearer at the meeting as donors make their pledges.
The fund has already attracted 400 million dollars in pledges from individuals, governments, corporations and foundations.
Among the pledges so far made are 200 million dollars from the US, 127 million dollars from France, 100 million dollars each from the UK and the Bill Gates Foundation and 100,000 dollars each from Annan, the International Olympic Committee and Winterhur Insurance.
In the past two months, Annan has at different forums outlined areas that require action in the fight against AIDS.
These include prevention of spread, reduction of mother-to- child transmission, care and treatment for those infected, search for cure and vaccine, and protection for the vulnerable, especially orphans.

24 june 2001 15:55:00

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