Page last updated at 02:05 GMT, Thursday, 26 June 2008 03:05 UK

Aids epidemic a 'global disaster'

By Imogen Foulkes
BBC News, Geneva

A former prostitute with HIV in Phnom Penh, Cambodia - 12/6/2008
Much Aids funding is not reaching those most in need, the IFRC says

The Aids epidemic in some countries is so severe that it should be classified as a disaster, the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) has warned.

The crisis fits the UN definition of a disaster as an event beyond the scope of any single society to cope with, says the IFRC.

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 International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (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.

'Easy options'

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.

The IFRC finds the world's response wanting.

There may be billions of dollars to spend on the fight against Aids, but the report warns that much of the money has not been targeted properly and is not reaching those most in need.

"When the history of HIV and Aids is written I think the people will say that we just went for the easier options," says Dr Mukesh Kapila, the IFRC's special representative on HIV/Aids.

General education and general awareness have been done, he says, but people at risk such as sex workers and injecting drug users are difficult for many governments to tackle.

Pie chart

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.

Relief workers need to factor those needs into their relief programmes, Dr Kapila says.

Although Aids has impacted on millions of people it's not something that can be sorted out by throwing money at it.
Andrew Hunt, UK

After the South Asian tsunami hit Aceh in Indonesia in 2005, he says, "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."

The IFRC says 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.

That is the kind of swift and targeted response which is needed, the IFRC says, to a global disaster which will be with us for years to come.

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