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Major AIDS conference considers impact of financial crisis

by Staff Writers
Dakar (AFP) Dec 3, 2008
A major international conference on AIDS in Africa opens on Wednesday in Dakar amid fears that the global financial crisis could hit funding for the fight against the disease.

French scientist Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, who won a share of the Nobel prize for medicine this year for her discovery of the HIV virus, told AFP ahead of the conference she was concerned about the impact of the crisis.

"Like the majority of people ... we all fear the consequences of the financial crisis particularly for the engagements of countries to the Global Fund (to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria)," Barre-Sinoussi told AFP.

The 15th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) runs until Sunday.

Barre-Sinoussi stressed that assistance and HIV/AIDS funding from western countries to the developed world have greatly helped Sub-Saharan Africa, home to two-thirds of the global total of 32.9 million people with the HIV virus.

"It is thanks to international aid that we have seen great progress in the last five years when you look at access to care and treatment in low income countries, especially in Africa," the scientist said.

The World Bank also fears that funding for the fight against HIV/AIDS may be hit by the financial crisis, but also offered solutions for the challenges ahead.

"Historically, if we look at the 1973 oil crisis you find that there is a decline in the total official aid. So it will be very hard to avoid that phenomenon now," World Bank AIDS and economy specialist Rene Bonnel said.

"At the same time it is important to realize that there are more funding sources that can be tapped," he added.

Countries such as China, South Korea and Japan, for example, have not yet been approached for HIV/AIDS funding.

Another option was to create more cost-efficient programmes in low-income countries that were better tailored to meet those countries' needs, he added.

The World Bank on Wednesday presented a new report, "The Changing HIV/AIDS Landscape," to the 5,000 delegates gathered at the Dakar conference.

Uganda's Elizabeth Lule, who is responsible for the World Bank's HIV/AIDS work in Africa, warned of "a very difficult, challenging period" ahead.

While those on the front lines of the AIDS battle work to fill financing gaps, other priorities were competing for donors' attention, she pointed out.

She listed world food shortages; conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan and in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo; Zimbabwe's cholera outbreak; and continuing problems with drug-resistant tuberculosis in southern Africa.

"The needs for more resources within these competing priorities but also with the financial crisis are enormous," she said.

"I think one concern for this conference is: will the donors and will the African government be able to manage these competing priorities and sustain the response against HIV/AIDS?"

The ICASA conference will open officially Wednesday afternoon with a speech by Peter Piot, the executive director of UNAIDS since its creation in 1995.

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Central African Republic president promises peace talks success
Bangui (AFP) Dec 1, 2008
Central African Republic President Francois Bozize said Monday that political talks starting this week and involving the government, opposition groups and rebels will usher in peace to the troubled country.

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