HIV Needs to Be at the Centre of Development Policy
May 16, 2001
Brussels -- Responding to HIV must be a core element of development policy, said Dr Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in a statement delivered on his behalf at the third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed countries here today.
"HIV must be placed at the center of development policy," Dr Piot said. "The HIV epidemic has created a development crisis. It not only threatens to make the achievement of international development targets an impossibility, it is turning progress backwards by decades."
Dr Piot warned that HIV is an issue both for Least Developed Countries where the epidemic is only beginning, as well as those where the epidemic has already caused substantial damage.
Low HIV rates in some Least Developed Countries is not an excuse for inaction, he said. "In some LDCs, the HIV epidemic is at its very early stages, with relatively few people infected. These are the countries facing the greatest opportunities for action against HIV, at the lowest cost. The fact that there are small numbers of people living with HIV is not an excuse to do nothing -- on the contrary, it is the reason to invest wisely in prevention."
Dr Piot called on countries to invest early in preventing the epidemic, pointing out that risk of HIV transmission exists in all countries.
"Investment early in the epidemic saves millions later -- millions of lives as well as millions of dollars," Dr Piot said. "The potential for spread always exists, and if complacency is the reaction to HIV, then a larger epidemic becomes much more probable."
While HIV prevalence is low in some LDCs, many LDCs have advanced epidemics, and the impacts of HIV across all of society are becoming apparent. Teachers are being lost faster than they can be trained, agricultural production is falling, human capacity is being depleted, and the burdens of support and care are escalating.
HIV is inextricably linked to poverty and economic growth. While AIDS deepens the poverty of households and nations, poverty also favours the spread of HIV, forcing LDCs to face the dual challenge of fighting poverty and HIV. And because poor households are often politically and socially marginalized, reaching these populations through programmes aimed at changing sexual and other behaviours is difficult.
Women and children in LDCs are particularly at risk. Large numbers of children growing up in poverty are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection, becoming in effect the next cohort of HIV-infected adults. This will in turn allow the epidemic to continue and intensify.
In Africa today more women than men are infected and the proportion of women infected is increasing. In addition, the epidemic in Africa is often being passed from one generation to another through sex between older men and younger girls.
The poorest countries bear the brunt of the epidemic. Around the world, 36.1 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, the vast majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa, where 3.8 million people became newly infected just last year. Of the more than 13 million AIDS orphans worldwide, 20% live in LDCs.
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