U.N. MDG Summit Begins; UNAIDS Data Shows 22 African Countries See Drop In New HIV Infections

“Ten years after world leaders set the most ambitious goals ever to tackle global poverty, they are meeting again to try to spur action to meet the targets by the 2015 deadline – which the U.N. says will be difficult, if not impossible, in some cases,” the Associated Press reports. More than 140 world leaders are scheduled to participate in the three-day U.N. Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which kicks off Monday.

In 2000, world leaders “vowed to reduce extreme poverty by half, ensure that every child has a primary school education, halt and reverse the HIV/AIDS pandemic, reduce maternal mortality by three-quarters and child mortality by two-thirds, and halve the number of people without access to clean water and basic sanitation – all by 2015. They also set goals to promote equality for women, protect the environment, increase development aid, and open the global trading and financial system,” the news service writes.

The article looks at the regions of the world facing the greatest gaps in achieving the MDG targets, and examines how leaders hope to accelerate progress toward the goals over the next five years through actions described in a draft declaration that leaders are expected to adopt at the summit. The piece also outlines the slow global progress towards MDG targets addressing women, such as maternal mortality, poverty and discrimination, which decrease womens’ access to food, water and housing, and notes how the advocacy group Amnesty International plans to call attention to the challenges facing women worldwide during this week’s summit.

The article references countries that have shown progress toward MDG targets, as documented in the Overseas Development Institute report card released last week (Lederer, 9/20).

The summit comes ahead of the U.N. General Assembly meeting, to kick off on Thursday, according to CNN.com. “United Nations officials are urging leaders to use the meetings as an opportunity to ratify dozens of international treaties ranging from protecting human rights to fighting terrorism to preserving biodiversity, a statement released by the organization said. … Last year, 64 countries took 103 treaty actions, the highest participation in four years, according to the U.N.,” according to the news service (9/20).

Number Of New HIV Infections Drop By 25% In 22 Sub-Saharan African Countries Between 2001-2009, UNAIDS Report Finds

UNAIDS released data on the progress countries have made towards MDG 6, which aims “to halt and begin to reverse the spread of [HIV and other diseases] by 2015,” The Observer reports. According to UNAIDS, between 2001 and 2009, “[n]ew infections [fell] by more than 25% in 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa,” according to the newspaper (Beaumont, 9/19).

“The data shows that countries with the largest epidemics in Africa – Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe – are leading the drop in new HIV infections,” according to a UNAIDS press release (9/17).

Also reporting on the data released by UNAIDS, the Birmingham Star writes: “Following promotion by national leaders and NGOs, [male] condom use has doubled in the last five years, while 5.2 million people worldwide are now on medication to help treat the disease” (9/18).

“For the first time change is happening at the heart of the epidemic,” UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe said in a statement, according to Reuters.

“We are seeing real progress towards MDG 6,” UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe said, U.N. News Centre reports. “In places where HIV was stealing away dreams, we now have hope,” he added (9/17). “But while progress is made in the worst-hit areas, regions such as Eastern Europe and Central Asia are reporting growing epidemics, said UNAIDS,” Agence France-Presse reports (9/17).

Additionally, “Sidibe warned that a $10 billion shortfall in the funding for AIDS in 2009 could put further progress at risk,” Reuters writes. “UNAIDS said an estimated $15.9 billion was available for the global AIDS response, which is $10 billion short of the estimated need. … UNAIDS recommends national governments allocate between 0.5 percent and 3 percent of government revenue to HIV and AIDS, depending on the prevalence of disease in their country” (Kelland, 9/17).

Media Outlets Examine Debates Over How To Improve Progress On MDGs

The New York Times writes that while “[v]irtually none of the countries that signed onto [support the MDGs] in 2000 faults the idea of eradicating hunger, educating children, improving maternal health or combating disease[,] … there is plenty of criticism about how the world’s leaders are going about it,” in an article that looks at some of the debates about how best to achieve the MDGs.

“Some lament the absence of a real action plan. Others fault the richest governments, and the Obama administration in particular, for what they say is mere lip service to the goals without spending the money needed,” the newspaper writes. “But perhaps most salient of all is a simple question, one that boils down to accountability.”

The article includes comments by Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs, special adviser to the U.N. on the MDGs, who describes the importance of a “plan of action” to set countries on track for achieving the goals and questions President Obama’s commitment to the MDGs. “Sachs is particularly scathing about the lack of new aid money from the Obama administration to meet the goals, accusing the president of promising as a candidate to make the goals American policy and basically ignoring them ever since,” the newspaper writes.

The piece includes the response to such criticisms by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, who points to Obama’s scheduled attendance at the MDG Summit as well as his $63 billion Global Health Initiative and “$3.5 billion [commitment] to bolster food security” in developing countries. The article also includes comments by Esther Duflo, a development expert at M.I.T., and Rudolf Knippenberg, a principal health adviser at UNICEF.

On the action plans laid out in the draft declaration, the New York Times continues, “The latest document before the leaders calls for nations to spend 70 cents out of every $100 generated by economic activity on aid by 2015, a target only five Northern European countries now meet. But the United States has never subscribed to that target … It traditionally spends the most in total, but its annual percentage stays around 20 cents or less per $100 generated.” The newspaper also notes that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “said he hoped to get new commitments of up to $45 billion during the development summit meeting” (MacFarquhar, 9/18).

Reuters interviewed USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah ahead of the summit about the need for world leaders to “rethink… how development is pursued” to help countries reach the MDGs. “When you look at where the Millennium Development Goals are not getting met, the rate of progress in those areas is too slow to achieve the goals by 2015,” Shah said in an interview with Reuters. “So simply reaffirming our commitment would not be enough if we were not fundamentally changing and innovating in the way we execute our work.”

“Shah said … Obama remained committed to his promise to boost U.S. aid budget to $52 billion by 2015 from about $25 billion now,” but also noted the growing pressure on the Obama administration to show the outcomes associated with investments in aid and changes to the programs as a result of such pressure, according to the news service.

Pointing to Obama’s Feed the Future program as well as the Global Health Initiative as two programs representing an evolving U.S. approach to aid, Shah “said U.S. aid programs were … channeling more resources to build up local groups and organizations, saying that the long-term sustainability of any aid effort will depend on the capacity of poor countries to both design and implement their own policy priorities,” Reuters writes. “The changes are part of a broader effort both to streamline the aid process and to move away from a model where foreign donors finance and execute top-down programs that can collapse when external help ends.” The article notes how the topic of aid coordination is expected to be addressed during this week’s summit (9/20).

The Los Angeles Times examines how the combination of donors falling short on their aid promises to Africa and the failure of African governments to follow through on their own commitments to improving health needs have contributed to gaps in progress toward the MDGs. “Only a handful of developed countries have met a pledge to increase foreign aid to 0.7% of their gross domestic product, while in some countries aid is declining. And only Rwanda, Tanzania and Liberia have met their pledge to spend 15% of their budgets on health,” the newspaper writes.

The article summarizes the progress and challenges African nation’s have faced in attempts to achieve the MDGs, before noting: “One worrying element, according to analysts, is that the easier [MDG] improvements – slashing debt, distributing mosquito nets, vaccinating children, improving primary school enrollments – have been carried out in many parts of Africa. With only five years left till 2015, far more challenging programs must be implemented, such as setting up decent health services for women in remote locations and improving the quality of primary education.”

The article includes comments made by Osten Chulu of the U.N. Development Program and Elhadj As Sy of UNICEF (Dixon, 9/20). In related news, the East African/allAfrica.com features an analysis on Africa’s progress toward reducing child mortality (Spooner/Onyango-Obbo, 9/20).

Also In MDG News: Millennium Villages; U.N., Google Launch Initiative To Monitor Water, Sanitation Worldwide

The Associated Press reports on the impact the U.N.’s Millennium Villages – “designed to show how aid and smart, simple technology can advance the” MDGs – has had on 14 villages in 10 sub-Saharan African countries. The article summarizes recent health gains made in the eastern Kenyan village of Dertu – “four new health care workers, free medicines and vaccines, a birthing center and laboratory under construction, bed nets to ward of mosquitoes. In 2006, 49 percent of 916 individuals tested had malaria. That rate has dropped to 8 percent.”

According to the AP, “[t]he project’s report for this year says bed net use by children under 5 has risen from 7 percent to 50 percent across the 14 villages. Malaria rates have dropped from 24 percent to 10 percent. Maize yields are up, chronic malnutrition is down, more babies are delivered by health professionals.”

The article also notes the arguments made by critics of the program, who question its sustainability. “The idea that if you spend a lot of money on poor villagers in Kenya, their lives will improve, is not seriously in doubt,” Nicolas van de Walle, a fellow at the Center for Global Development and a Cornell University professor said, according to the news service. “The real issue is how to do this at a national level, in a sustainable way that builds individual and institutional capacity, empowers citizens and their democratically elected governments. It seems to me that in that sense the villagers have failed.”

The piece includes comments by Jeffrey Sachs, who created the Millennium Villages, as well as others on the ground in Kenya who are involved in the project (Straziuso/Muhumed, 9/20).

Meanwhile, UN-Habitat, Google.org and other organizations have launched the “h2.0 initiative” to help acheive the MDG to improve access to clean drinking water and sanitation worldwide, The Hindu reports. “The initiative provides a common, real-time, online platform for data collected by groups around the world, presenting them in the form of interactive maps (using Google Earth), while providing an opportunity for community participation in data collection” (Ranganathan, 9/18).

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