Saturday, January 31, 2009

US Urged to Pay Fair Share of Global Fund


t r u t h o u t | 01.30


US Urged to Pay Fair Share of Global Fund

Thursday 29 January 2009


by: Mirela Xanthaki, Inter Press Service


    United Nations - The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis (TB) and Malaria is facing a critical funding gap of five billion dollars - an amount that could save nearly two million lives in the coming year, leading public health advocates said at a teleconference Thursday.


    "It would be tempting to scale back now due to the economic crisis, but that would be exactly the wrong strategy," said Peter Chernin, chairperson of the group Malaria No More.


    Established in 2001, the Global Fund is the main source of financing for programmes to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, with funding of 11.4 billion dollars for more than 550 programmes in 136 countries. It provides a quarter of all international financing for AIDS globally, two-thirds for tuberculosis, and three-quarters for malaria.


    The explicit and repeated commitments of the international community include the promise that malaria would be comprehensively controlled with full coverage of bed nets by the end of 2010 and a reduction of malaria death to near zero by 2012. A target of universal access to anti-retroviral HIV medicines was also set for the year 2010.


    Putting the needed funds in perspective, Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special adviser to the U.N. secretary-general, said, "Five billion dollars is less than one-half of 1 percent of what [the richest] G8 countries have approved to bail out failing banks in the last three months."


    Five billion dollars is also, according to the National Retail Federation, less than one-third of what people in the U.S. spent on Valentine's Day candy and gifts in 2007.


    "The G8 nations created the Global Fund - now they have to make sure effective interventions do not go unfunded," said Sachs.


    With many success stories during its short history, the fund has provided treatment for two million people currently on antiretroviral (ARV) drugs for HIV, TB treatment for 4.6 million people, and 70 million insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) to protect families from malaria. It is estimated that 2.5 million lives have been saved since the fund was created.


    "The Global Fund is arguably the most innovative, far reaching, results-driven health financing mechanism in existence," said Joanne Carter, executive director of RESULTS Educational Fund.


    The successes of the Global Fund have created greater demand. However, while the 2009-2010 budget was projected to be 8 billion dollars, only 3 billion dollars is currently available, including existing pledges by most donor governments and the 2009 pledge from the United States.


    If the gap is to be filled, all donor countries - and particularly the U.S. - will need to come forward to increase their pledges, the speakers said.


    The three diseases covered by the fund are costing Africa some 12 billion dollars in lost productivity every year. "It's a case of lost opportunities and it would be a huge mistake on the part of the world to write off this continent. There is enormous human capital, people willing to work hard and make major contributions to society," Chernin said.


    Getting these diseases under control would be a major boost to development, not only in the avoided costs of treatment and losses of productivity in a given year but also in eventually making Africa a full trading partner with the rest of the world.


    Chernin noted that these diseases are an overwhelming burden on the health care systems of many countries, which are also grappling with infant diseases, pneumonia, malnutrition and other health scourges.


    Speakers at the conference noted that as most major donors were agreeing to scale up the Global Fund to 6-8 billion dollars per year, the George W. Bush administration requested only 500 million dollars in fiscal year 2009 - a cut of nearly 350 million dollars from the previous year.


    The U.S. ended up paying one billion dollars less than its share - the smallest donation as a share of income of all the rich countries.


    "[Just] 0.16 of 1 percent of our income goes for development assistance, which is the lowest level of all 22 countries and this is in violation of the promise that President Bush subscribed in 2002," Sachs said. "We have a national responsibility not only with respect to Global Fund and with respect to these three diseases but with respect to the poorest countries in the world more generally."


    The pledge for 2009 is very low and there is still no pledge for 2010 from the U.S., but all speakers expressed hope in the new Barack Obama administration. Both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged in their campaigns to pay the U.S. fair share to the Global Fund of one-third.


    "The world has committed to achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010," said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé. "Key to reaching these goals is a fully funded Global Fund - an innovative and effective mechanism that is consistently delivering results and saving lives."


    "There is no shortage of funds at a moment when there have been 18 billion dollars of Christmas bonuses for Wall Street supported by bailout legislation" Sachs added.


    The private sector was also urged to step up and help bridge the gap. Thus far, oil giant Chevron is the biggest corporate donor, pledging 30 million dollars.


    "We're not asking for a bailout," stressed Rajat Gupta, chair of the Global Fund. "We are asking donor governments to honour their previous commitments to spend this level of money for the world's health and prosperity. At the current rate, these funds could save nearly 2 million additional lives in the coming years."


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