The global economic crisis poses a "major threat" to the fight against AIDS in Africa as funding for treatment programmes dries up, a top UN official said Thursday.
Michel Sidibe, the head of the UNAIDS agency, told reporters on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Libya that 96 percent of Africans receiving AIDS medications depend on aid from rich countries.
"The global economic crisis is a major threat that could drive aid mechanisms toward collapse," he said.
The Global Fund against AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis is already running a four billion dollar deficit, even as 2,500 people are put on treatment every day in Africa, Sidibe said.
"If the Fund doesn't remain solvent, sick people will start dying within six months," he said.
Sidibe said he hoped that the Group of Eight rich nations summit in Italy next week would stick to past promises, including the goal of providing universal access to treatment.
Six million Africans with AIDS are still awaiting treatement. Of the 500,000 people with HIV who die every year after also catching tuberculosis, 90 percent are Africans, he added.
Sidibe also praised "signs of hope" in South Africa, which sees 1,500 new AIDS cases every day, as the new President Jacob Zuma has publicly promised to prioritise the fight against the disease.
The country's AIDS programme was for years dogged by denialism under former president Thabo Mbeki, delaying the roll-out of medication for people with HIV.
The UNAIDS boss was originally scheduled to address African leaders at the summit, but he said his speech was cancelled due to "other priorities" at the talks, which have so far been dominated by Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's push to create a powerful new pan-African authority.