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AIDS a 'global disaster'

30th June 2008

An international grouping of Red Cross societies has said that the AIDS epidemic is so severe in some countries that it fits the United Nations definition of a disaster.

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The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said the HIV/AIDS problem fits the definition of an event beyond the scope of any single society to cope with.

In an unusual departure from its annual disaster report, the IFRC is focusing on HIV/AIDS, instead of more traditional disaster scenarios like earthquakes.

It says much of the money made available to tackle HIV/AIDS is not getting to those who need it most.

In its World Disasters Report, it says the world's response to AIDS has been sorely lacking, in spite of the fact that the disease has caused 25 million deaths. In addition, a further 33 million people are living with HIV, and 7,000 new infections occur every day.

The billions of dollars spent so far on the fight against AIDS has not been properly targeted and is still not reaching those in need.

Mukesh Kapila, the IFRC's special representative on HIV/AIDS, said history would judge that the world had simply taken the easier options with regard to the epidemic.

Governments were still finding it very hard to reach people at risk, like sex workers and injecting drug users, although some success had been seen in levels of general education and awareness, he said.

The IFRC also said the management of HIV/AIDS is greatly lacking wherever there is a coexisting natural disaster or armed conflict.

The needs of HIV/AIDS patients are often forgotten in the rush to bring in emergency medical assistance, while at the same time, risk factors for the disease may be on the rise, Kapila said, calling on relief workers to factor this in to their programmes.

For example, sexual and gender-based violence increased in the wake of the South Asian tsunami in Aceh province, Indonesia, in 2005.

The vulnerability of the population to HIV increased, as did the risk factors for other conditions.

An integrated approach was needed, the IFRC report said, citing Kenya as a good example. When 300,000 people were displaced during post-election violence in the country, health workers acted quickly to make sure AIDS patients continued to get anti-retroviral drugs.

They set up a free hotline with details of the nearest AIDS clinics and set out to trace HIV patients living in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Such a response would be crucial in the years to come, if the response to AIDS was to become faster and better targeted, the report said.

 

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