Superpowers fail pledges to global AIDs fund

 Christian Aid's HIV policy officer, Anna Thomas, reports from Barcelona on the state of the first Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria, on the first anniversary of its creation. The Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria was launched to great fanfare last year at a special UN session on HIV/AIDS. At the time Christian Aid was the only development agency to express concerns about the Fund, stating that it was unlikely to achieve its annual target of $US10 billion. We were also worried that yet another administrative body would only duplicate existing mechanisms. At its first anniversary, the Fund has a pitiful $US2.1 billion pledged. On Tuesday I was waiting for Tommy Thompson, US Secretary for Health, and Richard Feachem, new Director of the Fund to give their speeches to the delegates of the 14th AIDS conference. I was hoping, but not expecting, to hear something beyond the usual empty rhetoric. Tommy Thompson walked onto the platform, but didn't even get through his opening sentence before a rising chorus of shouts and whistles was heard. People were moving down to the front of the hall. They had banners: 'Where is the $10 billion?' 'Wanted! Bush and Thompson', they read. The protesters started to chant: 'Shame! Shame! No More Lives! No More Lives!' The rest of the audience clapped and joined in the chanting. Thompson was completely hidden by the demonstrators. He was also completely drowned out. Although he continued speaking, I have no idea what he said. After ten minutes or so, the crowd moved back. Tommy's speech became audible. It was just a diversionary tactic - they came back louder than ever, for another ten minutes. It was the most dynamic, and the most inspiring, moment in this conference so far. The TV cameras that had been sent to capture the Thompson's speech instead got, loud and clear, the message that not enough is being done in the fight against AIDS. The Global Fund, supposedly a quantum leap in the fight against AIDS, has just five per cent of the $10 billion annual target. The US is the richest country in the world but, of the G8 countries, it has contributed one of the lowest amounts to the Fund as a proportion of its overall wealth. All of the G8 countries need to step up their HIV/AIDS spending, both through the Fund and other dedicated programmes. What we have now is a drop in the ocean, and talk about the importance of the Fund just provides a fig leaf for the wealthy countries to hide their apathy. If the pandemic is to be stopped, poorer nations must be given help: 95 per cent of the three million people who died of AIDS last year live in developing countries. Even Feachem admitted, in a later meeting at the conference, that the first round of applications has used up almost all the Fund's existing money. Paradoxically, there is a problem with administering even this: he also admitted he does not know how to deal with the administrative burden the Fund imposes on countries whose infrastructures are already stretched by a long list of funders. And there is little point having a Fund if the money in it is not new money. The UK's contribution comes from our existing aid budget. For the moment, though, the activists are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt: unlike Mr Thompson, he got an attentive audience who laughed at his jokes. If Feachem manages to extract proper financial commitments from the rich countries, the Global Fund may justify its existence. But, as another eminent academic, Dr Jeffrey Sachs, said at the conference, time is running out fast. Barcelona must kick the world into action.

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