AIDS fighting spirit flagging, will miss 2015 targets - charity

WASHINGTON Wed Nov 28, 2012 12:01am IST

A man living with HIV covers his face to avoid being identified due to fear of discrimination at a Saudi Charity Association for AIDS Patients in Jeddah July 19, 2010. REUTERS/Susan Baaghil/Files

A man living with HIV covers his face to avoid being identified due to fear of discrimination at a Saudi Charity Association for AIDS Patients in Jeddah July 19, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Susan Baaghil/Files

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The world has lost momentum in the fight against the AIDS epidemic, with millions of new people infected last year, the ONE foundation said in a report given on Tuesday.

The conclusion contrasts with a UN report last week, which found that an end to AIDS was in sight due to better access to drugs.

But ONE says "the beginning of the end of the AIDS" remains out of reach, as the number of people newly infected each year still exceeds those who get treated for the first time.

Global leaders last year committed to the "beginning of the end of AIDS" by 2015.

Progress over the past decade has cut the death toll for the disease, mainly due to better access to drugs that can both treat and prevent the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which causes AIDS, the United Nations said in its annual report last week.

But while access to treatment has improved, in 2011 there were 2.5 million new cases of HIV. That is more than double the target of having only 1.1 million people newly infected each year, said ONE, a charity co-founded by Irish rock star Bono, that is dedicated to fighting poverty and preventable disease.

There were 34 million people living with AIDS at the end of last year.

At current rates, the world will not reach targets to reverse the spread of AIDS until 2022, seven years behind schedule, according to ONE.

"We recognize the world has done wonders in (fighting AIDS) in the last 10 years. But 2015 is around the corner," said Michael Elliott, ONE's chief executive.

"Here's a moment to put your pedal to the metal and go for it."

Much of the gap is due to funding cuts in major donor countries. The UN estimates there is about a $6 billion AIDS funding gap each year. Countries also have not coordinated a global strategy to tackle the AIDS epidemic, such as targeting treatment to groups at highest risk.

The ONE report examined funding for AIDS from the Group of Seven major developed countries, as well as the political leadership and strategy.

The United States has taken the lead in funding and tackling AIDS. President Barack Obama last year set a new target for AIDS treatments, and called on other nations to also boost their commitments.

The United Kingdom and France are not far behind, but Germany and Canada are lagging relative to their peers. And Japan and Italy are in the last two places, mainly due to Japan's earthquake in 2011 and Italy's economic woes.

Elliott said fiscal issues should not stop countries from donating to fight AIDS, since development aid is such a small portion of most countries' budgets -- an argument ONE has made consistently during the global recession.

"You have to be an unfeeling idiot, which we're not, to fail to recognize that the last few years have been tough economic times for people in many places all over the world," he said.

"(And) Italy may have fiscal problems. But it's not going to solve its fiscal problems on the back of development assistance."

But with major donors embroiled in austerity programs, low and middle-income countries have stepped up, and now provide more than half of the financing for AIDS, ONE said.

In the future, emerging economies like Brazil and China should take the lead on AIDS programs, ONE said.

"It's very important that people recognize this is a global fight," Elliott said. "It's not a fight that should be carried on the backs of the very generous American and British taxpayer.

The report, which comes ahead of World AIDS Day on December 1, will be posted online at w ww.one.org/policy. (Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)

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