Global Financial Crisis Could Harm HIV/AIDS Funding

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The current global financial crisis could harm HIV/AIDS funding and increase the factors that make people vulnerable to the disease, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said on Tuesday during an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, CQ HealthBeat reports. According to Piot, as rising food and energy costs drive more people into poverty worldwide, the factors that drive the spread of HIV also could increase.

"That must have an impact on the spread of HIV, although it's not so clear," he said, adding that it is certain that low-income countries will be more affected by and vulnerable to the financial crisis when it comes to providing HIV/AIDS treatment. For example, 100% of the cost to provide 50,000 HIV-positive people in Rwanda with antiretroviral drugs at the end of last year was paid by donors -- such as the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief -- according to Piot. He added that Brazil receives no donor funding to provide similar treatment services to its HIV-positive citizens.

Countries likely will not feel the effects of the financial crisis on HIV/AIDS "in the next six or 12 months because of commitments that have been made in better times," Piot said, adding that he wonders if it will be possible to continue enrolling 700,000 to one million people in drug treatment programs over the next few years. "If not, deaths will go up again, deaths from AIDS, no doubt about it," he said, adding, "We estimate that even if (funding) continues at the same level, deaths will go up to about three million per year by 2011."


Piot also praised the Bush administration and Congress for continuing PEPFAR, which he said is an "unprecedented program that has saved millions of lives." Piot added, "It is quite rare in international development that you can count so easily, you can measure, the impact of actions, and yet this has been the case when it comes to what PEPFAR has done, and it's unprecedented in international development." In addition, Piot commended President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for their comments at the recent White House summit on international development about how the U.S. should not reduce aid. "I hope that the next president will follow along the same lines," Piot said.

Jennifer Kates -- vice president and director of HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation -- said it is difficult to assess how the financial crisis will affect future funding levels. "How the financial crisis plays into that, we still don't know," she said.

Piot will leave his position at UNAIDS at the end of the year to head the new Institute for Global Health at Imperial College London (Vadala, CQ HealthBeat, 10/28).

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