February 10, 2009 / 2:57 PM / in 11 years

Financial crisis must not eclipse AIDS fight: U.N.

A man poses for a portrait wearing a t-shirt handed out by an internet company with the double message of protecting against computer viruses and HIV/AIDS in Senegal's capital Dakar, June 22, 2007. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

KHAYELITSHA, South Africa (Reuters) - World leaders must not let the global financial crisis distract them from a “moral responsibility” to fight HIV/AIDS, the United Nations’ top AIDS official said Tuesday.

Health analysts and government officials fear the global credit crunch could prompt rich nations to cut spending on health aid for the developing world, derailing United Nation targets for halting the spread of HIV by 2015.

“The world has a political responsibility to stabilize the market failure,” said Michel Sidibe, newly appointed executive director of UNAIDS, the U.N. agency charged with tackling the pandemic.

“But the same world has a moral and social responsibility to make sure that the four million people who are on (HIV) treatment will continue to have treatment, six million more will have access to treatment ...” he told a crowd at a clinic in Khayelitsha, a township outside Cape Town.

Sub-Saharan Africa is at the epicenter of the global AIDS pandemic and economic powerhouse South Africa has among the world’s worst infection rates. An estimated 1,000 people die here every day from AIDS-related illnesses.

Sidibe said achieving universal access to HIV treatment by 2010 — a goal 111 countries have set for themselves — was possible and said the $25 billion that UNAIDS estimates is needed to fund such a goal was “nothing.”

He said he wanted UNAIDS to engage more closely with communities and to protect the marginalized, such as drug-users and sex workers.

“I want to make sure that UNAIDS becomes really the voice of the voiceless,” he said.

Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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