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Funding cuts threaten global target on HIV/Aids

The first cut in HIV/Aids funding for 15 years could stamp out progress toward a global target to stop the spread of the virus, a senior United Nations official said.

In 2000, world leaders agreed to start reversing the spread of HIV/Aids by 2015. The effort is the sixth of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG), which will be progress checked next week when world leaders meet for talks in New York.

But European countries are giving about £400 million less this year to HIV/AIDS programmes around the world, said Michel Sidibe, the head of United Nations HIV/Aids agency UNAIDS.  And there is a £6 billion shortfall in the funds needed to achieve universal access to HIV treatment, which includes prevention programmes, healthcare systems and caring for HIV orphans. The world needs about £17bn to do this, according to calculations by UNAIDS.

"I am scared. For the first time, we are seeing a decline in financial commitment from donor nations," Mr Sidibe told Reuters news service.

At the end of 2008, there were 33.4 million people across the world living with HIV, according to UNAIDS. Also that year there were nearly 2.7 million new HIV infections and 2 million Aids deaths. Sub-Saharan Africa, took the brunt, claiming 71 per cent of new HIV infections in 2008.

While the number of new infections has fallen by 17 per cent since 2001, and 400,000 new infections in Africa were prevented, the infection rate is still too high, Mr Sidibe said. "Anytime we're putting two people on treatment, we have five new infections. Unless we can bring this down, we will not be able to change completely the course of the epidemic."

Twelve times as many patients are getting life-prolonging treatment, which also helps lower the spread of the virus to others, than they were five years ago, which he said was unprecedented.  But the drop in funding means as many as five million people who are getting treatment for either HIV or AIDS may not be able to carry on having it. Stopping the treatment can stop the drugs working on people, he said, highlighting that there are 10 million more people who need treatment but aren’t getting it.

Every day more than 7,400 people are infected with HIV and 5,500 die from Aids- related illnesses, according to figures from the United Nations. HIV is still the leading worldwide cause of death among women of child-bearing age.

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