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Press Release

AIDS Epidemic Threatens WSSD Goals, UNAIDS Says

June 29, 2000

The AIDS epidemic is a major threat to achieving the goals set by the World Summit for Social Development (WSSD), warned Kathleen Cravero, Deputy Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

"AIDS is clearly an unprecedented development crisis which is undermining achievement in social development and jeopardizing the goals set at the Summit," warned Dr. Cravero. "Especially in Africa, decades of gains in education and health are being eradicated by this epidemic." Dr. Cravero was speaking at the panel discussion, Combatting HIV/AIDS, at the Geneva 2000 Forum, the NGO venue for the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the Implementation of the Outcome of the WSSD.

In many developing countries but particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, the impact of AIDS on social development is being harshly felt. Education is hard hit, yet young people are in the forefront of the epidemic, with nearly 7 million young people aged 15-24 in sub-Saharan Africa now living with HIV. As household income drops, young people are forced out of school and into the workplace earlier. Children are also hard hit by the epidemic. So far, some 13.2 million children under 15 have been orphaned by AIDS, 95% of them in Africa. Teachers are also dying -- in Côte d'Ivoire, 7 in ten teacher deaths are due to HIV. In the first ten months of 1998, Zambia lost 1300 teachers to AIDS.

Throughout the continent, increased demand for health care for HIV-related illness is adding pressure to already over-stretched health services. In some countries HIV-positive patients occupy 40-70% of all beds in big city hospitals. Like teachers, hospital staff deaths are on the rise. One study in Zambia found that deaths among hospital workers, largely due to HIV, increased 13-fold over a ten-year period.

In 1995, governments at the WSSD in Copenhagen made commitments to eradicate poverty, improve education and access to primary health care, and accelerate development in Africa and less developed countries.

"One of the most significant outcomes of the Summit was the placement of poverty eradication at the centre of national and international agendas," Dr. Cravero said. "We have learned that AIDS and poverty are closely connected. Unless we address AIDS we cannot make progress on poverty and unless we do more to eradicate poverty, AIDS will remain a major threat."

A key commitment of the Special Session on the outcomes of the WSSD is to develop a plan of action to reduce HIV infection levels among young people by 25% in the 25 most affected countries in Africa by 2005. But meeting these targets will require increased social spending on education and primary health care to reduce vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, Dr. Cravero said.

Particular forms of support should include:

  • mainstreaming AIDS education into basic education and into non-formal education programmes;

  • strengthening services for sexual and reproductive health and life skills, especially for young people;

  • ensuring that migrant populations have access to basic health and education services;

  • promoting further study of the impact of AIDS on national development; and

  • strengthening national legislation which protects against HIV-related discrimination.

Turning commitments into reality will require translating global commitments into concrete country-level policies, Dr. Cravero said. These policies should change the socio-economic conditions that contribute to the epidemic, while increasing care and support and mitigating the epidemic's impact.

To fight the epidemic on all fronts UNAIDS recently launched an initiative to shore up the international and national response to AIDS in Africa. The International Partnership Against AIDS in Africa is a highly innovative alliance made up of African and donor governments, the UNAIDS Secretariat, its seven cosponsoring agencies -- UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, UNDCP, UNESCO, WHO and the World Bank, civil society and the private sector. The Partnership hopes to produce a multiplier effect on AIDS interventions by bringing together the range of social and government actors involved in them.

In the five years since the Social Summit, the AIDS epidemic has continued to grow, with sub-Saharan Africa -- which has some 24.5 million adults and children living with HIV -- bearing the brunt. South Africa alone now has 4.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS, the highest number in the world.

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This article was provided by UNAIDS. Visit UNAIDS' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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