16 July 2009

Global Financial Crisis Demands Smart Action on AIDS

By Julio Montaner, IAS 2009 President and International Chair, IAS 2009

As participants from around the world gather for IAS 2009, I, and I'm sure many others coming to Cape Town, are greatly frustrated by the lack of commitment to universal access to HIV prevention and treatment at the recent G8 Summit. The global financial crisis is not an excuse to weaken our determination to fulfill these commitments. With the UN target of universal access by 2010 on the horizon, and the 2015 deadline to achieve the Millennium Development Goals not far behind, we cannot afford a momentary pause or, worse yet, a retrenchment of finances. These investments, coupled with commitment to enact evidence- and rights-based national HIV policies, will prevent new infections and save lives.

Enormous progress has been made in the past five years since the dramatic scale-up of resources to address the global AIDS pandemic. The number of people receiving antiretroviral therapy in low- and middle-income countries jumped from 400,000 at the end of 2003 to over three million by the end 2007 and the resulting reductions in morbidity and mortality are already evident at a population level. This is also leading to decreasing rates of new HIV infections. In addition, the groundswell of support at all levels of society for rolling back the AIDS epidemic has galvanized efforts to address other major infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and malaria, and to strengthen maternal and child health, sexual and reproductive health, and primary care.

Global health is now firmly recognized as a prerequisite for global development. As the world faces the challenge of the current economic crisis, we must increase our investments in health to ensure strong human and economic stability in the 21st Century. There should be no disagreement on the urgency with which these investments must be made. With continued expansion of early HIV testing and treatment, combined with the arsenal of other proven prevention interventions at our disposal, we could roll back this epidemic within a few short years.

We need to push harder for implementing scientifically-proven technologies alongside protection of human rights. We should not allow ideology-driven public health policy. We need to usher in a new global era of respect for scientific evidence coupled with respect for human rights to stop HIV.
The global financial crisis demands the smart allocation of resources. Universal access to HIV prevention and treatment is indeed a cost-averting intervention. This is not only the right thing to do, but it is also a wise investment.

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