The top United Nations official in charge of coordinating the global war against AIDS has urged the Board of Executive Directors of the Inter-American Development Bank to increase efforts to combat the growing threat of acquired immune deficiency syndrome in Latin America and the Caribbean.
"In 20 years, the disease has become the most devastating epidemic the world has ever known," Peter Piot, executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, told the IDB board in a meeting in Washington, D.C. "HIV has spread to every continent and has infected 60 million people, killing 22 million."
He added that it is important to understand that "we are in the early stages of the epidemic." The cost of inaction will be too high, he said, and the lost resources and human lives will seriously affect economic and social growth in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Piot, a distinguished Belgian medical doctor with a renowned international career in science and public service, said the region has emerged as a key test of world resolve to combat AIDS in a major way.
"The most urgent need in Latin America and the Caribbean is to increase the scale of the AIDS response," he said.
He estimated that $7 to $10 billion in resources are necessary worldwide for an adequate response in the areas of prevention and care in low- and medium-income countries. Only $2 billion is being spent at present, he said. The investment required for Latin America and the Caribbean is $1.14 billion, he said.
The Caribbean, which has the highest rates of infection after sub-Sahara Africa, requires $260 million for basic prevention and care, said Piot. Yet international assistance to that region is only $20 million. Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are losing an estimated 5 percent of their gross domestic product because of AIDS, according to a study by the University of the West Indies and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.
Piot said that the main requirement in fighting AIDS, in addition to educational campaigns for prevention C especially among youth and groups at risk C was the political will to invest the necessary resources.
He emphasized the importance of a strategic association of the United Nations AIDS program with regional development organizations, such as the IDB and the Pan American Health Organization C in the framework of the recently established global fund to promote health and fight AIDS C to coordinate the efforts of governments, the private sector, and civil society.
The scientist praised the growing consciousness among leaders of the region about the importance and magnitude of the problem. In particular, he singled out the creation of the Pan-Caribbean Partnership Against AIDS launched in February of this year as well as initiatives taken by Brazil. He also underscored the key role of the Catholic Church and entities such as Caritas in fighting AIDS. In particular he mentioned his attendance at the Congress on AIDS of the Vatican Pontifical Council in December 1999.
"The response to AIDS has to move beyond the health sector alone," he said. "It needs to be a responsibility across every field of social and economic planning. AIDS has an impact on tourism, education, agriculture, transport, industry and social welfare, and every one of these sectors has a part to play in building a successful response to AIDS."
"The time is right, the political leadership in the region is there, the proven strategies exist on the ground. Now is the time to take the decisive step of a full-scale AIDS response," he added.