World becoming numb to HIV/AIDS: UNAIDS executive director

HIV infection is on the rise but there is potential to control the upsurge of infections with effective measures only if there are adequate funds. According to UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibe the world has become numb to the fact that 7,400 people are being infected with AIDS every day and funds to combat it are not pouring in as they should. Since 2001, the number of newly infected people has fallen by 17 per cent a year - but there are still 2.7 million new cases each year.

Sydney, Australia could become a role model for the world in controlling the new infections provided there are enough funds say experts. Mr Sidibe said that in Sydney new infection rates had dropped to about one person per day – something that other countries can learn from. While speaking at Melbourne at the Advance Global Health conference he said, “We have been able to break the conspiracy of silence about AIDS… We're not translating that into political choices, in budgets and in reforms…I am scared. I was woken today by a call from Mozambique that stocks of retroviral drugs are running out. And for the first time, we're seeing a reduction of financial support - $US623 million ($701m) less from the European Union this year.” He met leaders of the Asia Pacific Business Coalition on AIDS, including vice-chairman Lachlan Murdoch, and visited professor Sharon Lewin at Burnet Institute, a leader of the global search for a cure for AIDS. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the Melbourne conference and said that more needed to be done to save the lives of women and children.

The executive director of UNAIDS also said that the medically supervised injection facility operating in Kings Cross was impressive. He said that this idea was both a “pragmatic” and “cost effective” approach to preventing HIV. He however avoided any link with the project and up coming elections.

The medically supervised injectable drug use unit has been running as a pilot project for almost a decade, and the Labor government supported renewing its license in 2007. However, the state government decided not to grant the facility a permanent license, so Parliament must vote on renewing the license every four years. Opposition leader Barry O'Farrell demanded “hard data” that the unit was effective and helps with addiction before supporting any permanent license. Since the facility's launch in 2001, ambulance calls to Kings Cross have declined 80 percent, said Dr. Marianne Jauncey, the injection center's medical director. In that time, the facility has averted more than 3,500 medical overdoses without a fatality and seen about 12,000 clients. The site supervises an average of 200 injections a day.

Mr. Sidibe on licensing said, “The decision is local… It should be taken by politicians after reviewing the center; but from an evidence point of view, what I saw is not harmful, it's the opposite.”

Speaking at at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Mr. Sidibe said that presently Australia can reject HIV positive permanent visa applicants if they are unable to meet health requirements. Also, they can be rejected if their condition is likely to result in significant costs to the community. He would be discussing these issues with government officials including Prime Minister Julia Gillard and urging Australia to consider changing the restrictions that are placed on people with HIV. An emigration department spokesman said that HIV positive people can and do migrate to Australia extremely regularly.

Mr Sidibe went on to urge Australia to increase its financial commitment to the Global AIDS Fund.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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Comments

  1. James_Mac James_Mac Australia says:

    Part of the issue is the falling credibility of UNAIDS in their support of male circumcision following the (cut-short to influence the outcome) African trials, which reported an absolute reduction on 1.3% (averaged across the three trials) and where many times the number supposedly protected were lost from the trials. A follow-up trial to demonstrate the protective effect of male circumcision to women was abandoned due to 'futility' after a 50% increased rate of infection was observed.

    The African studies impressed no-one, save for the WHO and UNAIDS, who are allowing vested interests to comprimise proven strategies in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

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