Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Aids Epidemic Should Be Classified As a Global Disaster

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) has warned the AIDS in some countries is so severe that it should be classified as a disaster. Moreover, the IFRC added, the crisis fits the UN definition of a disaster as an event beyond the scope of any single society to cope with.

The IFRC's annual report on world disasters usually focuses on specific natural disasters such as earthquakes. The report says much of the money spent on Aids is not reaching those in need. This year, the IFRC is departing from tradition with its world disasters report, to focus on what it says is one of the most long term and complex problems facing the world: the HIV/ AIDS epidemic.

The IFRC finds the world's response wanting. By any standard, the epidemic is a global disaster: 25 million deaths, 33 million people living with HIV/Aids, 7,000 new infections every day. Moreover, there may be billions of dollars to spend on the fight against Aids. However, the report warns that much of the money has not been targeted properly.

Dr Mukesh Kapila, the IFRC's special representative on HIV/Aids said, "When the history of HIV and Aids is written I think the people will say that we just went for the easier options". Moreover, he added, general education and general awareness have been done, but people at risk such as sex workers and injecting drug users are difficult for many governments to tackle.

Dr Kapila said relief workers needed to factor those needs into their relief programs. Another area where the IFRC believes our response is lacking is in our approach to HIV/Aids during natural disaster or conflict. The risk factors for the disease may rise, while at the same time, in the rush to bring in emergency relief, the needs of HIV/Aids patients may be forgotten.

Although Aids has affected millions of people, it is not something that can be sorted out by throwing money at it. After the South Asian tsunami hit Aceh in Indonesia in 2005, Dr Kapila said, "We had a rise in the risk factors like sexual and gender based violence, so we saw a situation where there was high vulnerability and HIV and other conditions can flourish in those circumstances."

Kenya is a good example of such an integrated approach. When 300,000 people were displaced during post-election violence, health workers acted quickly to make sure Aids patients continued to get anti-retroviral drugs. Patients in camps for the displaced were traced, and a free hotline was set up with details of the nearest Aids clinics.

Related article:
South Africa to Ban Aids Vitamin Trials

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