Tue, Nov 30, 2004 - Page 9 News List

World AIDS Day this year is not a time for celebration

Despite lofty goals set by the UN and action from western governments, HIV/AIDS continues to spread across the globe

DPA , New York


The UN sounded the alarm of bad things to come as it prepared to sponsor events around the world on Dec. 1 to raise awareness about the unrelenting spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS.

This year, another 4.9 million people became infected, bringing the world total to 39.4 million people living with AIDS. The total figure includes 37.2 million people aged 15 to 49 -- nearly half of them women. In the past year, AIDS killed 3.1 million people.

The bad news is that HIV infections have risen steeply in the past year, with sharp increases in East Asia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The UNAIDS organization said in its recent annual AIDS Epidemic Update that infection rates jumped 50 percent in East Asian countries, particularly in China.

The AIDS epidemic, which first struck in the 1980s, has defied efforts to mount a comprehensive campaign by heads of state, politicians, health organizations and individuals. The failure is further compounded by evaporating resources from big donors, which have increased defense budgets while limiting expenditures on health programs.

On Tuesday at the UN headquarters in New York, 21 world famous writers like John Updike, Salman Rushdie, Nadine Gordimer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Gunter Grass, Arthur Miller, Jose Saramago and Susan Sontag will gather to read excerpts from their published novels. The extracts will be compiled in one book to be edited by South African Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer. Proceeds from the sale will go to programs to fight AIDS, with the publishers also donating their normal fees.

The writers' contributions will be a small token in the fight against AIDS that will require, according to UN estimates, an annual US$12 billion by next year and US$20 billion the following year.

The UN has made fighting HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria one of the eight Millennium Declaration Goals, which were adopted by all heads of state and government in 2000. The goal calls for halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015. In the past five years, the campaign to reach the 2015 target has received financial and political support, but it has not been consistent.

Unless the 2015 target to stop the HIV/AIDS spread is attained, other goals like eradicating poverty and hunger, reducing mortality rate among children under 5 and reduction of the percentage of women dying in childbirth will go wanting.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who launched the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in 2001, said the Fund disbursed US$4.7 billion last year and had about US$6 billion for this year.

Annan said the funding remains "significantly short" of the target to raise US$12 billion for next year in order to tackle HIV/AIDS, which has spread to all regions in the world.

With donations to the Global Fund lagging, the administration of US President George W. Bush, which contributed significantly, suggested in November that the program should stop giving out grants.

US Secretary of Health and Human Resources Tommy Thompson, the current chair of the Global Fund, said in Arusha, Tanzania, in mid-November that he would delay the process of issuing the grants until priorities are reviewed and realigned to the dwindling fund situation.

Peter Piot, director of UNAIDS, who attended the Arusha meeting, said having enough resources next year would be critical in order to set a "clear course in the right direction."

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