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Global AIDS Fund Falls Far Short of Target
Published on Wednesday, June 27, 2001 by Inter Press Service
'Too Little, Too Late'
Global AIDS Fund Falls Far Short of Target
by Thalif Deen
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 deadly disease.

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.

Tim Atwater
Jubilee USA
The pledges and contributions came during the three-day UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV-AIDS, scheduled to end here Wednesday.

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 dollars).

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 global fund.

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 huge shortfall.

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


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