Wednesday, December 15, 2004

UNESCO, HIV/AIDS and Avian Flu

It may be time for the United States to encourage UNESCO to consider building capacity relative to the Asian Flu within its HIV/AIDS programs

Beside the UNESCO traditional Thematic Areas (Education, Natural Sciences, Social and Human Sciences, Culture, Communication and Information), it has created a number of Special Focus programs reflecting either a transdisciplinary approach or focus on current events or news related subjects (or both). UNESCO has a home website for its HIV/AIDS Special Focus Program.

Thanks to its interdisciplinary experience, and its worldwide mandate, UNESCO is well placed to play a lead role in delivering messages to a large audience about the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. UNESCO experience can help customize messages, change risky behavior, and promote discussion and action on the treatment of HIV/AIDS taking into account cultural values and human rights as well as defending the dignity of all. Through its educational and other programs, UNESCO can help nations deal with the impact of the AIDS epidemic.

The World Health Organization is especially concerned with a likely pandemic of Avian flu. While flu kills more than 40,000 people a year in the United States, and is likely to kill more this season due to the lack of flu vaccine, the pandemics do far worse. WHO predicts that, “even in the best case scenarios of the next pandemic, 2 to 7 million people would die and tens of millions would require medical attention.” Worse cast scenarios, with modern transportation networks, and the crowded conditions in developing nations, are desperate – the Spanish flu pandemic death toll has been estimated as high as 40 to 50 million worldwide.

The interrelation of a possible Avian flu pandemic and the HIV/AIDS epidemic have received relatively little public attention. HIV/AIDS causes immunodeficiency, and thus seems likely to make its victims more vulnerable to flu. Health services in countries already overwhelmed by HIV/AIDS are poorly prepared to deal with added millions of cases of flu. Countries seeking to deal with the economic and social impacts of HIV/AIDS may need to deal with exacerbating impacts of an Avian flu pandemic.

According to WHO, “the global spread of a pandemic cannot be stopped but preparedness will reduce its impact. WHO will continue to urge preparedness and assist Member States in these activities." The United States might encourage UNESCO to join with WHO in urging such preparedness.

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