60 Million Africans Have Been Touched by AIDS, Says UNAIDS Executive Director

AIDS Has Become Africa's Biggest Challenge

Maputo -- By continuing to devastate Africa's economies, communities, and development, HIV/AIDS has undoubtedly become Africa's biggest challenge. "Sixty million Africans have been touched by AIDS in the most immediate way. They are either living with HIV, have died of AIDS or they have lost their parents to AIDS. But the toll of those directly affected is even higher," said Dr Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), who was speaking during the Global Forum on Health and Development at the African Union Summit. The Forum is the first-ever international videoconference on AIDS, TB and malaria to be held at the Summit, bringing together African heads of state, UN officials, and AIDS experts and academics from around the world.

As the impact of AIDS continues to threaten African society, African leaders are mounting a full-scale response to fight HIV/AIDS, targeting all sectors. "Involving people living with HIV in the AIDS response, as well as the broadest possible coalition in society, is the only way to succeed in effectively turning back the epidemic," said Dr Piot. "Nineteen African nations have established government-wide AIDS councils or commissions personally chaired by the head of state, head of government or their deputy, to take charge of a multisectoral response to AIDS."

Full-scale responses to the epidemic also need full scale resources. There have been recent increases in global AIDS funding by a wide range of international donors, including the US, UK, the World Bank's Multi-Country AIDS Programme of grants to Africa, the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, the Gates Foundation as well as governments in affected countries. But still the funding is only half of what is needed by 2005. According to WHO and UNAIDS estimates, over $US10.5 billion a year will be needed in 2005 for prevention, treatment, care and support programmes in low- and middle-income countries. About half of that total is needed in Africa alone.

With up to 1,000 adults and children dying of AIDS each day in some the worst-affected countries in Africa, Africa is losing a significant portion of its young people and productive workforce. "Only if AIDS is rapidly brought under control will social and economic development be able to flourish," said Dr Piot. "This can become a reality if African leaders make it their business to invest in both AIDS prevention and care and treatment." Today, fewer than one in five people at risk of HIV infection in Africa are targeted by an HIV prevention programme.

In addition to scaling up AIDS prevention programmes, ensuring wider access to care and treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS must also be a priority for African leaders. "The price at which antiretrovirals are available to developing countries has dropped significantly, but technical facilities and sustainable financing are still major barriers," said Dr Piot. "African governments must seize the opportunity to expand access to HIV care and treatment in their countries." In sub-Saharan Africa, only some 50,000 people have access to antiretrovirals out of an estimated 4 million people in need of the medicines.

Of the 42 million adults and children living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, an estimated 30 million, or 70%, live in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2002, 58% of those infected in the region were women.

For more information, please contact Anne Winter, UNAIDS, Geneva, (+41 22) 791 4577, Dominique De Santis, UNAIDS, Geneva, (+41 22) 791 4509, Gavin Hart, UNAIDS, New York, (+1 212) 584 5016, or Aulora Stally, UNAIDS, Harare, (+263) 9131 9492.