UNITED NATIONS - After a slow and hesitant start,
the much-ballyhooed Global AIDS Fund has garnered close to one
billion dollars in contributions - still far short of its target
of seven billion to 10 billion dollars per year to fight the
The pledges and contributions came during the three-day UN General
Assembly Special Session on HIV-AIDS, scheduled to end here
The 200 million dollars which Bush has pledged is the same amount as sub- Saharan Africa spends on debt payments in less than a week.
The United Kingdom doubled its original contribution Tuesday,
matching the 200 million dollars pledged by the United States last
month. The two governments are the fund's largest contributors.
So far, total contributions have amounted to more than 920 million
dollars, including new contributions from Norway (110 million
dollars), Sweden (60 million dollars) and Canada (73 million
Last month, France pledged about 127 million dollars to the fund.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a private charity set up by
the Microsoft founder, contributed 100 million dollars.
Three African countries - each stricken with AIDS and each saddled
with financial troubles including extensive foreign debt - pledged
13 million dollars Monday. Commitments included 10 million dollars
from Nigeria, two million dollars from Uganda, and one million
dollars from Zimbabwe.
Sue Markham, spokesperson for the President of the General
Assembly, told reporters that the special session "was not
expected to be a pledging conference" although most pledges were
made during the meeting.
The contributions show a high level of political commitment by
member states, Markham said. She added that some of the
contributions were spread over a three-year period while others
were for general spending on AIDS and were not earmarked for the
The Irish government said it would spend an additional 30 million
dollars per year directly on helping the world's poorer nations,
while Finland said it would contribute about six million dollars
to UNAIDS, the joint UN agency coordinating the world body's
response to the pandemic.
Members of the Group of Eight - the 'Group of Seven' industrial
powers plus Russia - reportedly will wait to announce additional
contributions until their summit in Genoa, Italy next month. The
group's core members are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan,
the United Kingdom, and United States.
When UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed the creation of the
AIDS fund last March, he aimed at a 10-billion-dollar target,
setting the minimum amount needed at seven billion dollars.
UN officials said they expected pledges to inch above the billion-
dollar mark by the end of this week's special session - leaving a
The fund is primarily aimed at controlling AIDS but would also be
used to fight tuberculosis and malaria.
According to Julia Celeves, a UNAIDS senior policy officer, only
about 1.8 billion dollars is currently being spent on AIDS
annually - or between 5.2 billion and 8.2 billion dollars less
than what's needed.
Even as US Secretary of State Colin Powell told delegates Monday
that the 200-million-dollar US pledge was only "seed money,"
several anti-AIDS activists and non-governmental organizations
dismissed the US contribution as too little, too late.
Powell said the US contribution was meant to jump start the global
fund and help generate "billions more from donors all over the
world," adding: "More will come from the United States as we learn
where our support can be most effective."
Paul Davis of the non-governmental Health GAP Coalition said the
US pledge - roughly equivalent to three dollars per person with
AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa - would be "enough to buy dinner (but)
not enough to save a life."
Of the 36 million people the UN estimates live with HIV-AIDS
worldwide, more than 25 million are in Africa.
Following Washington's "dubious lead," Davis said, several other
countries have contributed much smaller amounts, jeopardizing the
fund's ability to make a meaningful impact against the epidemic.
Mark Curtis of the UK charity Christian Aid warned, however, that
even if fully financed, the fund risked raising false expectations
that the spreading disease could be tackled with drugs alone.
"Christian Aid believes the international community needs to
direct its energy towards massive increases in aid through
existing channels," he argued. "It also needs to focus on
reforming those existing channels rather than being distracted by
discussions of a new fund."
Tim Atwater of Jubilee USA, a group lobbying to cancel poor
countries' foreign debts, said "the 200 million dollars which
(President George W.) Bush has pledged is the same amount as sub-
Saharan Africa spends on debt payments in less than a week."
The US Congress could write the check on a Monday and by Friday,
Africa would have paid it back, he said.
Lucy Matthew of London-based Drop the Debt said that in one day,
Malawi spends on debt servicing what it would cost to train 160
new teachers. Some 30 percent of the country's schoolteachers are
infected with HIV, according to UN estimates.
In Zambia, where one child in seven is an orphan because of HIV-
AIDS, four days of debt repayments could cover the annual costs of
housing and feeding some 10,000 children, she added.
Copyright 2001 IPS