Press Release

18 November 2002

UNFPA Joins Forces with OPEC Fund to fight HIV/AIDS in Arab Region, Central America and the Caribbean

BRUSSELS - HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in the Arab region, Central America and the Caribbean will be strengthened under a three-year, 13-country initiative launched today by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Vienna, Austria-based OPEC Fund for International Development.

The new initiative comprises two separate programmes: one for the Arab region, and the other for Central America and the Caribbean.

The programme in Central America and the Caribbean, with US$3.2 million from the OPEC Fund, is designed to reduce vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, particularly among youth and mobile populations, in six countries: Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras and St. Lucia. The programme will train teachers and outreach workers in the region in sexual and reproductive health, to foster greater awareness and behaviour change. Data on HIV/AIDS will be collected and analysed, and technical assistance provided to help countries develop prevention strategies and strengthen health care services. The programme will also promote the sharing of best practices at national, regional and global levels.

An estimated 1.9 million people in Central America and the Caribbean live with HIV/AIDS; some 200,000 people acquired the virus last year alone. HIV prevalence rates in the Caribbean are the highest in the world, after sub-Saharan Africa.

The programme for the Arab region seeks to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and strengthen national efforts to detect and respond to the pandemic, particularly among vulnerable groups, in Lebanon, Morocco, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Somalia, the Sudan, Syria and Yemen. A substantial focus is being placed on NGO capacity building. The project will train community health workers to deal with reproductive health issues affecting youth, including the prevention of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. The OPEC Fund will provide US$1 million for this effort.

Although AIDS has spread more slowly in the Arab region than elsewhere in the world, there were an estimated 80,000 new infections last year, bringing the number of infected people in the region to 500,000. Efforts to prevent and control the disease are weak, and experts expect the number of cases to rise quickly. The predominant route of infection is through sexual transmission and prevalence is increasing among pregnant women in countries that experience large-scale population mobility.

All projects were designed in close collaboration with each of the countries in both regions.

"The partnership between UNFPA and the OPEC Fund is a significant contribution to the global fight against HIV/AIDS," said UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid. "It is a good example of how donors can pool resources to scale up information and services to prevent further infections and save lives."

Dr. Y. Seyyid Abdulai, Director-General of the OPEC Fund, described HIV/AIDS as a major health and development challenge, which demands priority attention. "We need a healthy and active global population if we are to move development forward," he said.

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The OPEC Fund is the development finance institution of member states of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) which, since its founding in 1976, has been working with low income countries to further their social and economic advancement. The Fund established an HIV/AIDS Special Account last year to provide urgently needed financing for alleviation efforts. In June 2002, it allocated US$ 8.1 million for an Initiative against HIV/AIDS in Africa in collaboration with the World Health Organization.

UNFPA is the world's largest multilateral source of assistance in the areas of reproductive health and population data collection and analysis. The Fund has provided more than US$5.6 billion to developing countries since 1969. Nearly all of UNFPA's reproductive health programmes in more than 140 countries include interventions to prevent HIV infection, with a special focus on young people and pregnant women.

Contact Information:

Omar Gharzeddine
Tel.: +1 (212) 297-5028
Email: gharzeddine@unfpa.org

Mohammed Mazouz
Tel.: +(32-2) 550 1831
Email: mazouz@unfpa.org