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UN: AIDS pandemic could escalate in Africa
Updated: 2005-11-29 16:53

The HIV/ AIDS scourge on the African continent could worsen in 2006 if developed nations do not deliver on their financial pledges, the U.N.'s top AIDS official in Africa said on Monday.

Stephen Lewis, U.N. special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, said treatment, prevention and care programs on the continent will start losing out next year if rich nations do not release the money they have promised.

Quoting figures from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Lewis said it has only received $3.6 billion, half of what it needs to fund programs in 2006 and 2007.

"There's a steadily diminishing lack of commitment on the part of the world to release money for the Global Fund," said Lewis.

"Tremendous pressure must be put on the G8 (Group of Eight leading industrial countries) to deliver the dollars which they have promised," he told Reuters.

The Global Fund, the brainchild of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, is an independent conduit for developed nations' aid to tackle the three diseases.

Africa is the worst-hit continent with an estimated 26 million people infected with HIV/AIDS.

Four million of the infected have been identified as needing urgent treatment, but so far only 10 percent of them have access to treatment, Lewis said.

"The shortfall is in billions of dollars," Lewis said. "It is a catastrophe for Africa if the proposals that come from the grassroots of countries are not funded."

"If the funds are not there you compromise treatment, care and prevention and compromising these means compromising millions of lives on the African continent."

Lewis said the shortfall is pushing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, to ask for less money than they require.

"We are on the knife's edge," he said. "This is a tremendous opportunity for a breakthrough if we can sustain the treatment and prevention but the lack of funds will grossly affect these programs."

The U.N. envoy spoke on the sidelines of the east African and Indian Ocean regional meeting for the Global Fund in the Rwandan capital Kigali.

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