The Guardian 2 March, 2005

Debt repayments hamper
fight against HIV/AIDS

A United Nations envoy to some of the world's poorest countries said recently that these least developed countries (LDCs) are cutting back further on essential health and education programs in order to service their foreign debt. He called for urgent action to help these countries combat the devastating effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic which is worsening as a result of these economic woes.

Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the LDCs, Anwarul K Chowdhury, made the comments at the UN Headquarters in New York during the launch of a publication about how women in poor countries cope with HIV/AIDS. He added that "an unsustainable debt burden" meant some nations such as Senegal, Malawi, and Sao Tome and Principe must commit about 30 percent of their public income to repayments each year.

"It is a critical challenge for those countries as they are forced to choose between servicing their debts and investing in health and education and tackling poverty and HIV/AIDS, which are essential for building and developing their human and institutional capacity", Mr Chowdhury said at the gathering.

The world's 50 LDCs now pay an estimated US$5.1 billion simply to service their debt. The lack of services in these countries often forces women to choose between nursing sick family members and earning a living for their households.

The Under-Secretary-General called for greater international commitment to helping the LDCs in their fight against HIV/AIDS and other problems hampering their development.

A panel discussion at the launch also heard reports from HIV/AIDS activists about their personal experiences with the disease and about the importance of overcoming taboos and other cultural barriers to combating it.

The report is published by Mr. Chowdhury's office and the UN Development Program (UNDP) and is entitled Hope: Building Capacity: Least Developed Countries Meet the HIV/AIDS Challenge.

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