Top Anti-Pandemic Funder Says Gov't Cannot Win AIDS Fight Alone

Governments cannot be expected to win the fight against AIDS alone, said the head of the largest international funder of anti-pandemic programs.

"The fight against AIDS cannot only be won by countries, it has to involve the civil societies, which has to involve the community affected by the disease," Dr. Michel Kazatchkine, the executive director of The Global Fund, told reporters at the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP).

"It has to get more and more involvement of the private sector," he added. "We need more resources not only more resources, resources that are sustainable."

Around 2,500 delegates from 70 countries are gathered for the Eighth ICAAP, which opened on Sunday in Sri Lanka's capital city Colombo and ends Thursday.

UNAIDS, co-sponsor of the congress, along with the AIDS Society of Asia and the Pacific (ASAP), recently revised its estimate of HIV-positive people in the region from 8.3 million to 5.4 million. Nevertheless, the epidemic in Asia and the Pacific is still increasing, with approximately one million new infections in the last two years, according to IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks), which is part of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Speakers at the AIDS conference have been stressing the need for action to prevent a surge in the regional infection rate.

"We need as an international community to find a way to have people ... in a position to pledge for longer periods of time," said Kazatchkine, whose organization has raised $11 billion over the last four-and-a-half years for prevention programs. Launched by the Group of 8 industrialized nations, The Global Fund has committed $7.7 billion of that to programs in 136 countries to combat AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

"The challenge for Asia is to keep prevalence low," said Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, in a statement read by his deputy director, Deborah Landey.

Describing complacency by the region's leaders as misplaced, Piot cited dramatic increases in prevalence among men who have sex with men in China, and among married women in Papua New Guinea.

"This conference is being held at a historic moment in the life of the epidemic in this region," the UNAIDS chief said in his statement, "because there is still hope ... but we must seize these opportunities of hope."

While attending the five-day conference alongside U.N. agencies, NGOs and government representatives, international Christian NGO World Vision will be highlighting the plight of children.

Children who are "[o]rphaned, stigmatized, driven to work and exploitation, sometimes contracting the virus from their mothers at birth … feel the effects of HIV and AIDS more than any other sector of society," the group stated in a released report.

"Without adults to care for them, children orphaned by HIV and AIDS are vulnerable to many forms of hardship and discrimination, from missing out on school or being underpaid in child labor, through to sexual abuse or trafficking," reported World Vision regional advocacy director Laurence Gray.

"Governments, local authorities and community members need to open their eyes to the vulnerabilities of the children in their care and take urgent steps to protect them from the effects of HIV and AIDS."

World Vision, one of the largest Christian relief and development organizations in the world, will produce and circulate a summary of each day's proceedings at the ICAAP meeting, giving special emphasis on the issues and solutions that concern children.

Established in 1950 to care for orphans in Asia, World Vision has grown to embrace the larger issues of community development and advocacy for the poor in its mission to help children and their families build sustainable futures. The organization still focuses on children, however, because it says "they are the best indicator of a community's social health."

"When children are fed, sheltered, schooled, protected, valued, and loved a community thrives," it states.