African leaders will gather today in Abuja to discuss the battle against HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria on the continent at an African Union (AU)-organized summit.
The summit, to be attended by senior government figures from at least 18 African countries, will go "beyond making commitments to evoking bold, urgent and extraordinary action from African heads of states and government towards ensuring that the targets set at this summit towards the prevention and control of the three diseases are met by 2010," the African Union said in a statement.
"The ultimate goal is to free Africa from the shackles placed upon her by HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and to alleviate the suffering, death and poverty which result from these epidemics, and so provide the platform for further socio-economic development," it continued.
Nigerian Health Minister Eyitayo Lambo said the summit, held at the instigation of Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, "should allow Africa's leaders to reaffirm their commitment to fighting these diseases and achieving the goals set down by the Abuja Declarations of 2000 and 2001, as well as the UN's Millennium goals."
Health ministers from 24 countries and finance ministers from about 10 countries have also confirmed their attendance.
"This summit is organized around the theme of `universal access to care for HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria across Africa by 2010,'" he said.
The diseases are the three biggest causes of mortality in the African continent and threaten the continent's human and socio-economic development, the AU said in its statement.
Africa is home to around a tenth of the world's population, but accounts for 60 percent of those suffering from HIV-AIDS.
The AU said that last year, between 2.8 million and 3.9 million people in the region became infected with HIV, while 2.4 million adults and children died of AIDS.
Africa accounts for more than a quarter of all the tuberculosis cases reported in the world, while 90 percent of the half billion malaria cases recorded annually occur in Africa, it said.
The UN children's agency UNICEF puts the number of children who have lost at least one parent to AIDS in Africa at 12.3 million. Eight out of ten of the world's orphans are African, said UNICEF's spokeswoman in Nigeria, Christine Jeaulmes.
Abdoul Dieng, regional adviser for UNAIDS, which along with UNICEF is acting as a partner in the summit, said it would focus on Africa's progress in tackling the diseases.
"An evaluation of what has been achieved since 2001, based on our research, will for the first time be presented to the heads of state to determine the extent to which the resolutions have been applied," he said.
"We will have to revise our goals, particularly when it comes to universal access to care."
Lambo announced last Thursday that Nigeria's HIV/AIDS prevalence rate had dropped from 5 percent in 2003 to 4.4 percent last year.