AIDS crisis cuts Africa's annual growth

The AIDS virus – which affects about 35 million people in Africa - will cause annual growth to fall across the continent this year, political leaders have warned.

African Ministers for finance, planning and economic development projected the HIV/AIDS epidemic will cut approximately one per cent from gross domestic product (GDP) growth rates in Africa, significantly diminishing the prospects of realising the economic expansion necessary to reduce poverty.

The leaders announced the fall as they welcomed the accession of 15 more African countries to the "African Peer Review Mechanism." The new system commits countries to pursue democratic governance, respect human rights and seek prosperity under the wider "New Partnership for Africa's Development" (NEPAD).

The African ministers were meeting in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa for an annual meeting organised by the African Development Bank and the Economic Commission for Africa, the two key economic institutions for the continent.

Ministers agreed official development assistance to African countries "needed to be increased" and welcomed initiatives aimed at increasing funding for Africa’s development projects to assist countries in meeting millennium development goals.

They also called for action to counter what they see as the negative impact that agricultural subsidies by Western nations are having on African agricultural exports.

“[Western] countries should front-load the benefits of trade liberalisation for the poorest countries by providing immediate duty-free and quota-free market access, removing non-tariff barriers, and developing an appropriate price stabilisation mechanism,” a joint communiqué between Ministers said.

Leaders also recommended the International Monetary Fund (IMF) should assist African countries to develop a "menu" of policy options as well as imposing fewer structural conditions and providing for outcomes-based conditions where appropriate.

They said that to provide greater fiscal flexibility, the IMF should "analyse the linkages, trade-offs and policy choices required to attain the millennium development goals, as a basis for discussions with development partners on mobilising the additional resources required for progress."

Another key proposal called for the IMF to evaluate exogenous shocks, including: commodity price volatility, natural disasters and aid shortfalls when making future financial decisions with member states.

They also recommended that access to concession lending should be extended to countries suffering from exceptional exogenous shocks such as terrorist attacks and a new wave of communicable diseases.

Leaders have urged the global pharmaceutical industry to make drugs treating communicable diseases, including acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

According to the World Bank Group only 10,000 of the 25 million people living with HIV/AIDS in Africa are currently taking highly active antiretroviral therapy and only two per cent of African children are protected from malaria-carrying mosquitoes by treated bed nets.

In 1997 a study revealed African public health spending for AIDS exceeded two per cent of GDP in 7 of the 16 African countries it sampled. Total health spending in most African countries accounts for just 3-5 per cent of GDP.