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AIDS Review: Funding cuts undermine progress

9. June 2011

    (New York) - Funding cutbacks for HIV and AIDS programmes must be avoided if progress is to continue in the fight against AIDS, representatives of faith groups have declared as they, civil society representatives and government leaders began a three-day review of global progress against the disease.

    Of particular concern to faith groups at the global gathering at the United Nations, is the impact of funding cuts and other challenges that threaten access to prevention, care, treatment and support, particularly to women and children.

    At a June 8 "side event", held at Holy Family (Catholic) Church in Manhattan and organized by the Catholic HIV and AIDS Network, Caritas Internationalis and the Catholic Medical Mission Board, panellists focused on the impact of funding cuts on service provision after years of scaling up programmes. 

    A recent report from the Catholic HIV and AIDS Network (CHAN) provided concrete examples of what happens when funding cutbacks occur. In one case cited by the report, Nsambya Home Care Programme, a Catholic community-based organization in Kampala, Uganda, has provided home-based and palliative care to 11,000 clients, anti-retroviral treatment (ART) to 5,000 clients including 300 children, and a range of other HIV prevention, support and voluntary counselling and testing services. 

    But since 2007, the organization has experienced a cut in nearly 75 percent of its total funding. The report said, "Trained staff have been laid off, and medication and supply inventory – once responsive to burgeoning demand – is now held to a bare minimum. Funding from international donors, such as PEPFAR, has been flat-lined."

    As a result of the cuts, in the past year Nsambya has been unable to enroll new clients on anti-retroviral treatment unless people already on treatment pass away. Nsambya’s coordinator, the CHAN report said, states that people are dying in the process of waiting to be enrolled. 

    The report concluded by saying that with all of the progress made since 2001, it is "imperative that the United Nations member states do not backtrack on their commitments to HIV and AIDS treatment, prevention, care and support for both adults and children."

    One of the panel participants, Sister Alison Munro, director of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC) AIDS office in Pretoria, South Africa, noted the great changes and strides in responding to HIV and AIDS in recent years. However, she stated that the "world continues to face new infections, challenges around vaccine and drug development, prevailing costs, and the ever-present recognition that AIDS is more than a problem to be treated only medically and scientifically." 

    Munro expressed a theme heard at several points during the opening plenary session of the UN meeting: that it is impossible to separate the fight against HIV and AIDS from social, political and economic realities – such as the availability of public health care.
    Munro added, "Where treatment that is available is accessed because the underlying and accompanying economic, political, clinical, social and cultural environment is in some measure favourable, one can talk of the possibility of universal access in that local setting." She said, "Conversely when there is even just one factor mitigating against access, one must see universal access as a myth."

    Another theme at the afternoon session was the special role and responsibility of the faith community and faith-based groups in the response to HIV – founded on their affirmation of human dignity and their grassroots presence on the ground. "Those are our distinctive attributes," said Peter Prove, executive director of the Geneva-based Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.

    The first day of the global meeting – which is being attended by about 30 heads of state as well as civil society representatives and others – began with UN officials declaring the need to expand and strengthen partnerships to address HIV and AIDS.

    “I believe that if we are to succeed, it is essential for our actions to be based on a broad partnership in which governments, the private sector and civil society join forces and, together, play a greater governance role in efforts to combat the virus,” said General Assembly President Joseph Deiss, as reported by the UN News Service.

    As a result of its research, the Catholic HIV and AIDS Network is calling on governments to maintain long-term funding commitments to continue and scale up ART programmes and support the infrastructure needed to meet the Universal Access targets; provide comprehensive and integrated prevention, treatment, care and support for adults and children living with or vulnerable to HIV infection; improve support for infected and affected children through increased and sustained access to paediatric diagnostics (testing) and treatment adapted for use in poor settings, and continued support for orphans and vulnerable children.

    For more information and for interviews with religious leaders contact: 
    Sara Speicher, sspeicher@e-alliance.ch or 
    Becky Johnson (in New York), bjohnson@e-alliance.ch  Mobile: +1-702-994-5524

The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance is a broad international network of churches and Christian organizations cooperating in advocacy on food and HIV and AIDS. The Alliance is based in Geneva, Switzerland. For more information, see http://www.e-alliance.ch/

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