At African AIDS conference, MSF calls for increased funding for HIV treatment

© Brendan Bannon

NAIROBI/ADDIS ABABA, 2 December 2011 – As Africa’s AIDS Conference convenes in Addis Ababa this Sunday, December 4, efforts to combat HIV in sub-Saharan Africa are under serious threat.  According to international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), this is due to a massive funding crisis at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. At the same time, recent scientific evidence shows that this is a time of great promise, with HIV treatment itself having been proven to not only save lives, but also dramatically reduce the spread of the virus from one person to another.

Africa is home to countries with the world’s highest HIV prevalence, where the social and economic impact of the pandemic is the highest in the world.  The ‘International Conference on AIDS and Sexually-transmitted Diseases in Africa’ (ICASA) is the main gathering of scientists, health professionals and policy makers to take stock of the AIDS pandemic that continues to ravage the continent.

“The recent medical advances around HIV and the progress achieved in scaling up treatment to half the people in need today are pointing us in the right direction,” said Dr Leslie Shanks, MSF Medical Director. “But this will all be meaningless if there is not enough funding to match the political promises we've accrued to date. All governments should fund further treatment scale-up to save lives while reducing transmission of the virus.” 

Last week, the Global Fund Board announced its decision to cancel the most recent round of funding because of a lack of resources, stating that no new funding opportunity will be possible until 2014. Its contingency Transition Funding Mechanism will only support continuity of programmes, which does not include treatment for any new patients in need of treatment for HIV or drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB). This decision comes at a time when global HIV/AIDS funding has been on the decline for two years in a row. This is already seriously endangering the continuity of patients’ treatment, as well as plans to scale up life-saving care for hundreds of thousands of people living with HIV.

MSF calls on the Global Fund Board to provide a new funding opportunity and convene an emergency donor conference within 200 days, before the International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC in July 2012.

This year has brought critical political commitments: all governments meeting at the UN High Level Meeting in June committed to having 15 million people on HIV treatment by 2015, and the US government committed on World AIDS Day to put an additional two million people on treatment over the next two years. This is a critical step in the midst of a bleak outlook for global HIV/AIDS programmes, but these commitments need to be backed up with the necessary funding to turn them into reality – the Global Fund must be funded.  Affected governments need to step up to avoid gaps, help expand treatment and reverse the epidemic. 

“We have been seeing the impact of the funding crisis in countries where we work,” said Dr Shanks. “Some countries have to cap the number of new people allowed to start treatment, others have to delay the start of improved treatment protocols, and many are forced to put critical plans on hold to roll out treatment strategies that can have a serious impact on the epidemic.”

At the ICASA conference, MSF will present field research that quantifies and documents examples of the effects of funding shortfalls in African countries over the last two years. Other presentations will demonstrate significant progress in field research related to opportunistic infections that worsen the conditions of people living with HIV/AIDS in Africa, such as the neglected tropical diseases visceral leishmaniasis and cryptococcal meningitis. Treatment of these conditions will also be impacted by a lack of funding for HIV/AIDS.

MSF’s Briefing Document – Reversing AIDS? How advances are being held back by funding shortages can be found at www.msfaccess.org

For more information on ICASA, please visit www.icasa2011addis.org