CAPE TOWN - AIDS activists in Cape Town yesterday called on global leaders to step up funding for HIV treatment, saying failure to do so would cost lives and devastate economies in countries hard hit by the pandemic.

SA has one of the world's biggest AIDS epidemics, with 17% of the globe's HIV patients. Although the government has allocated many more resources to HIV/AIDS projects than most African countries, it gets significant donor funding and would be hard hit by any decline.

The activists' call came ahead of a high-level meeting in London today on the Group of Eight 's (G- 8's) commitment to ensure universal access to treatment by the end of this year. The meeting will be chaired by UK Minister of State Gareth Thomas, and delegates will include representatives from the world's biggest HIV/AIDS donors - the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the US Presidential Plan for Emergency AIDS Relief (Pepfar) , as well as G-8 members.

The world was less than halfway to achieving universal access, AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa advocacy co- ordinator Paula Akugizibwe said. About 4-million HIV patients were getting AIDS drugs worldwide, but 10-million were not getting treatment , she said.

Activists were worried that donors were shifting resources away from HIV/AIDS, she said. The issue was not on the agenda for the next G-8 meeting in May, and the US government recently said it would cut support to the Global Fund by 50m this year.

More than a million HIV patients are getting treatment in SA in the public and private sectors, according to the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society, but this represents less than half the patients in need.

The government has set aside more than R22bn for HIV/AIDS programmes over the next three years, complemented by funds from Pepfar and the Global Fund. Pepfar had given SA 2,56bn by the end of last year, with another 6,8m promised for this year. SA has also received 184,4m from the Global Fund.