NEW YORK, USA, 1 December 2011 - As UNICEF faces growing pressure on investments for children and HIV in the face of the global economic crisis, the organisation is concentrating on finding ways to make the best use of its available resources by “doing more with less.”
|VIDEO: Watch international AIDS experts discuss the challenges of creating an AIDS-free generation, despite the global economic downturn. Watch in RealPlayer|
In a live online discussion on the eve of World AIDS Day at UNICEF headquarters in New York, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta explained that the long downturn represents not just a challenge, but an opportunity.
“Doing more with less,” she said, “means when you’re faced with economic crisis and you have little to go on, that’s when you become the most inventive, the most focused, the most efficient – and therefore the most creative.”
Making the best of limited resources
"Instead of thinking of the crisis as just a crisis,” said Ms. Gupta, “it’s a good moment in history to think about, ‘When we have limited resources, how do we best use them?’” In acting on behalf of children at this time, she says, it’s particularly important to think about which measures are proven effective.
|VIDEO: On World AIDS Day, international experts gathered to discuss how to reach the most vulnerable children in the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis despite the global recession. Watch in RealPlayer|
“We must be more targeted,” she said, “and we must use what the evidence shows us works.”
Joining Ms Gupta were UNICEF HIV and AIDS Section Chief Craig McClure and Chris Desmond, an economist with the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University’s School for Public Health. BBC Contributing Correspondent Jane O’Brien moderated the discussion.
Craig McClure cited the “amazing progress” made for children affected by HIV, especially in the last decade, but said that more must still be done. “For example,” he said, “400,000 children infected last year under the age of five. That’s unacceptable, but it’s a 30 per cent drop from just five, six years ago.”
Eliminating infections among children
UNICEF’s Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS Campaign hosted the conversation both to mark World AIDS Day and to announce the campaign’s extension through 2015. The campaign is supporting work to achieve two prevention targets by that year: eliminating new HIV infections among children, and halving new infections among adolescents and young people.
|© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-2042/Susan Markisz|
|UNICEF staff monitor the live video channel for questions from audience members watching online. The conversation marked both World AIDS Day, observed on 1 December, and the extension through 2015 of UNICEF’s Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS Campaign.|
That goal can feel especially hard to reach in the face of tighter donor budgets. A reminder of the crisis’ impact on investment came earlier this month, with word that one major funding organization, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, will not make any new grants until 2014. That came after the Fund asked international donors for $20 billion, but was only given $11.5 billion.
Chris Desmond, who specializes in the economics of HIV and AIDS, says that the problem posed by the decline depends on how organizations like UNICEF, as well as local governments and communities, choose to respond to it. “The first area of response,” he says, is to ask, ‘are we going to accept this as a decline?”
Mr. Desmond says the amounts donated to international development in fact represent only a relatively small portion of large national budgets, and that while an environment has been created which suggests funding cuts are necessary, “that’s simply not true.”
|UNICEF HIV and AIDS Section Chief Craig McClure listens to HIV economist Chris Desmond of Harvard University during a live streaming Web conversation on the eve of World AIDS Day. Desmond encouraged UNICEF not to accept funding cuts as inevitable, while McClure said of HIV funding, “It’s not a cost – it’s an investment.”|
Children too small to count?
“When banks on Wall Street were failing,” he says, “they found the money – ‘too big to fail.’ But apparently, children are too small to count. And so the real question is whether or not UNICEF and others will take the steps to ensure that we just don’t accept these cuts, and that we don’t have to face the consequences. Because, really, are we saying that international banks are more important to our future than our children?”
In fact, both Ms. Gupta and Mr. McClure argue that money spent on children affected by HIV and AIDS should be seen as an investment in the future, not a cost.
“Half of women who need antiretrovirals to prevent HIV infection to their children and keep themselves alive now have it,” said Mr. McClure. “We are on the road to ending this epidemic."
As Ms. Gupta observes, “You don’t want to perpetuate the crisis you have now. You want to end it. And the best way to do that is to invest in children.”
Livestream of World AIDS Day event