An AIDS time bomb looms over sub-Saharan Africa, where 8,000 people are infected with HIV every day, health experts and politicians were told Thursday at the United Nations Commission on HIV/AIDS and Governance in Africa, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. "If we think we are seeing an impact today, we have to brace ourselves because it is set to get very much worse in the future," warned Alan Whiteside, a commission member. A massive scaling-up of treatment is needed to prevent a catastrophic scenario of societies collapsing under the weight of the pandemic, the 20-member commission said. In half the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, per capita growth is falling by 0.5% to 1.2% each year due to AIDS, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria said. By 2010, per capita gross domestic product in some of the most AIDS-ravaged countries may drop by 8%, with per capita consumption falling even more, said the fund.
Health care systems throughout sub-Saharan Africa are overwhelmed by the growing number of HIV patients, and studies predict health care costs in the most-affected countries could increase tenfold over the next several years. Just 50,000 Africans out of the 4 million in need of life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs have access to them, the commission said.
"African governments do not have the capacity to sustain treatment programs at national level," said former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda. "They need the support and assistance of the international community in order to scale up treatment programs in a sustainable manner," he added. Earlier this year the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS revised its estimate of funds required to combat global HIV/AIDS from $10 billion annually to $12 billion.