After 30 years, new sources needed for AIDS campaign

30th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

As the war on AIDS heads into its fourth decade, the need for funds is spiralling relentlessly higher, prompting a quest for new resources from consumer levies to contributions from developing giants.

"We currently have around 16 billion dollars available for the global fight against aids," said Bernhard Schwartlander, who heads the strategy and results department at the UN agency UNAIDS.

"But we estimate that in 2015, even if we are most efficient ... we will need at least 22 billion dollars, so (there's) over six billion dollars (in) shortfall between now and ramping up the response in 2015," he told AFP.

Drugs to curb HIV are now being rolled out to millions of poor people, especially in Africa.

But these drugs are not a cure and they have to be taken for the rest of one's life.

As a result, the more lives that are saved, the more the bill goes up.

Yet funding has levelled out over the past three years as Western donors -- who shoulder almost all of the financial burden -- deal with the aftermath of the financial and economic crises.

"The problem right now is, with the fiscal crisis there is not only a squeeze on AIDS drugs but there is (also) a huge squeeze on AIDS research," said Seth Berkley, who heads the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI).

Campaigners are turning to innovative sources to try to plug the gap.

In 2006, 15 countries imposed tiny taxes on air tickets, a move which reaped two billion dollars over four years, while Schwartlander suggested a new levy on tobacco sales.

At the next G20 summit, where French President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to push for a new tax on financial transactions to fund development.

The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a public-private partnership, has launched a mechanism called the Dow Jones Global Fund 50 index.

The barometer measures the financial results of companies that support the Fund's mission. Part of the revenues generated through licensing this index for investors goes to the Fund.

"It has been launched on the London, Frankfurt stock markets and soon Abu Dhabi," said Michel Kazatchkine, who heads the Fund.

The Fund is also proposing other methods like deals between poor countries, rich countries and the organisation.

"A rich country could agree to cancel 50 percent of the debt of an indebted country if the latter agrees to invest the remaining 50 percent of its debt in the Fund's programmes," said Kazatchkine, noting that the first of such deals was set up in 2008 between Germany and Indonesia.

"The money from this debt will be turned into money for health," he said.

Kazatchkine has been discreetly urging cash-rich emerging giants, including the Gulf states and China, to dip into their pockets, although insiders say that the returns so far have been meagre.

According to the Global Fund's website, 230 million dollars has been disbursed to China for AIDS since 2003.

Yet China now has more than three trillion dollars in foreign exchange reserves and spent tens of billions on staging the 2008 Olympics and the 2010 Shanghai Expo.

Peter Piot, former head of UNAIDS, acknowledged that China has pockets of entrenched poverty and a still-low per capita income.

Even so, it was time for wealthier emerging countries to fund their own needs to help free up resources for far poorer countries, he said.

"I don't see why the Global Fund should give all that money to China, I mean they can pay for that themselves," said Piot, now director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

"There's a new world order that's emerging, and except for what I would say many sub-Saharan countries and a few other countries, the rest can pay for themselves.

"You have to put the resources where the risk of infection is, and in the countries that are the poorest."

© 2011 AFP

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