G8 retreating from disease commitments: activists

At the 2000 meeting in Okinawa, G8 members set out a series of objectives for the world to meet by 2010: reducing by 25 per cent the number of young people infected with HIV/AIDS; reducing the rate of tuberculosis prevalence and mortality by half; reducing malaria infections by half. But in the past three years, indicators for all three diseases have spiked significantly. The number of HIV-infected children under 15 has almost tripled.
Three years ago, world leaders gathered for the G8 meeting in Okinawa, Japan, and pledged to fight disease in the world's poorest countries; in Kananaskis last year, they cited AIDS in Africa as a particular crisis. But AIDS activists and development agencies say there are strong signs that leaders of the world's eight major industrialized nations will back away from those commitments when they meet in France this weekend — and that the Global Fund for AIDS, in particular, will not get the financial commitments it needs to keep functioning. A series of draft statements on health, obtained by Médécins Sans Frontières and shared with The Globe and Mail, shows progressively weaker language about AIDS and the killer diseases afflicting the poorest countries. A letter from a senior adviser to U.S. President George W. Bush, dated May 8, urges other G8 countries to drop from the final leaders' statement all references to the Global Fund for AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and to support research for "diseases affecting mostly developing countries." "We were totally shocked to see these things dropped from the statement ... it's shocking that this is the U.S. position," said Carol Devine, who is the Access to Essential Medicines campaigner for Médécins Sans Frontières. "Last year, Sept. 11 had happened, so that was occupying everybody — but this year, we really hoped to see some serious leadership, especially on access to medicine. But these health issues are just being swept under the mat." The latest U.S. draft drops a call for research on drugs and treatment for diseases such as bilharzia, leprosy and dengue fever. It also deletes the reference to the Doha Declaration, a statement issued after global-trade negotiations in which rich countries pledged to improve access to generic drugs specifically in countries that do not have resources to produce them, and pledged to find a way for AIDS-afflicted countries to provide patented medicines cheaply. "The key to the G8 are further pledges to the Global Fund, which needs at minimum $5-billion (U.S.) for 2003-04, and at the moment has a few hundred million," said Stephen Lewis, the United Nations Secretary-General's special envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa. "Unless there are very major commitments, it means the best new international initiative on AIDS we've had in the last several years is being strangled wilfully." At the 2000 meeting in Okinawa, G8 members set out a series of objectives for the world to meet by 2010: reducing by 25 per cent the number of young people infected with HIV/AIDS; reducing the rate of tuberculosis prevalence and mortality by half; reducing malaria infections by half. But in the past three years, indicators for all three diseases have spiked significantly. The number of HIV-infected children under 15 has almost tripled. The Global Fund was to be the key mechanism in the fight against such diseases. It was meant to obtain $7-billion to $10-billion in new funds each year, but its bank account currently contains $300-million. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said in Okinawa that Canada "strongly supports the fund" and played a key role in its creation — yet Canada's commitment of $25-million a year for four years, is proportionately one of the smallest of developed countries. The Interagency Coalition for AIDS and Development, a coalition of 26 humanitarian, development, labour and health organizations, wrote the Prime Minister two weeks ago to request that he use the summit to announce a pledge of an additional $75-million a year for the next three years. It is widely believed that French President Jacques Chirac will make an announcement of new funds for the Global Fund in Evian this weekend, while there is also speculation that Britain, the European Community and possibly Germany might also make major new funding announcements. New pledges would be "a godsend that would mean the Global Fund would come alive and function, and prove to the world that real progress can be made fighting AIDS," Mr. Lewis said. Under a new law, Washington can give as much as $500-million this year — providing that the rest of the G8 comes up with a total of $1-billion. The U.S. contribution cannot exceed more than a quarter of the total raised by the fund. Mr. Lewis pointed out that the Global Fund has put more than 188,000 people on antiretroviral drugs so far, but does not have the money — not even in the pledges — to pay for those drugs after the first two years. Without new funds, those people will go off the drugs and die. "We have made very clear to everyone that we are taking on commitments — this is not infrastructure investment money, this is not building a road, this is taking on commitments that we need to keep," fund spokesman Jon Liden said. "These people's needs don't disappear."