Aids Alert International

Bush administration backs out of global AIDS funding

International AIDS goals are unmet, report says

The $15 billion pledged by President Bush to fund an international HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention initiative has evaporated as quickly as a magician’s rabbit out of the hat, international AIDS activists charge.

"There seems to be a lot of hypocrisy going on," says Kris Hermes, spokesman for the AIDS advocacy group Health GAP of New Orleans.

"It’s outrageous, heinous, unacceptable," says Paul Zeitz, DO, executive director of Global AIDS Alliance of Washington, DC.

"The president, unfortunately, played a double trick on this — he made media coverage, and the public perception is that he is fully funding the $15 billion plan," he adds.

The facts are that Bush hasn’t even asked Congress to fund $2 billion of the plan until 2006, Zeitz says. "No lives have been saved, and Bush is not even funding his own plan."

Funds greatly needed

Any uncertainty in the United States’ funding of international AIDS services could have a dire impact on the pandemic, since the United States is the largest and wealthiest contributor to the cause.

According to the UNAIDS Progress Report on the Global Response to the HIV/AIDS Epidemic, 2003, which was released Sept. 22, 2003, current spending on HIV/AIDS programs is less than one-half of what will be needed by 2005 and less than one-third of what will be needed by 2007.

The UNAIDS report also estimates that the cost of expanding prevention, care, treatment, and support activities will be at least $10.5 billion a year by 2005

International AIDS activists and lobbyists were incensed in the late summer when they learned that the Bush administration quietly was asking the Republican-led Congress to not give full funding to its own $3 billion per year (for five years) pledge toward international AIDS treatment and prevention.

The reason given for the turnaround on global AIDS spending was Bush’s claim that developing nations cannot absorb more than $2 billion of the pledged $3 billion.

"I think that Bush would rather win the public relations war rather than the war against AIDS," says Kate Krauss, a member of AIDS Policy Project in Philadelphia.

Kraus notes that UNAIDS has reported that there are nearly half a million people worldwide who have AIDS and have health care, but have no antiretroviral drugs. That group could easily absorb any excess funds from the United States.

Also, the U.S. money could be used to support and build health care infrastructure in places where this is lacking, as well as support organizations like the Treatment Action Campaign of South Africa that are providing HIV-positive people with treatment preparedness services and education, Krauss says.

Disturbing data

The latest UNAIDS report has found that some prevention and treatment programs are under way in most countries coping with the epidemic, although they reach far too few people.

Some of the report’s findings are as follows:

  • Less than 1% of pregnant women in most sub-Saharan African nations receive information and treatment about avoiding transmission of HIV to their infants.
  • Fewer than 5% of injecting drug users receive HIV prevention services.
  • In 2002, only about 300,000 out of an estimated 5 million to 6 million HIV-infected people in low- and middle-income countries received antiretroviral medications when they needed them.

AIDS activists also reserve their ire for Sen. Bill Frist, MD, (D-TN) the Senate majority leader and a prominent heart surgeon, who, they say, has repeatedly introduced global AIDS legislation and then withdrawn it, presumably under pressure from the Bush administration.

What Krauss calls a bait-and-switch policy had resulted in an uncertain international AIDS funding situation by early fall, and this could result in the implementation of the Bush administration’s own AIDS treatment and prevention plan being postponed for several more years.

Also, it could sound the death knell of the Global Fund, which would have benefited from $1 billion a year from the United States if the president’s plan had been fully funded, she says.

"The Global Fund is in its third round of grants, and it’s being slowly starved to death," Krauss says.

Separate fund approved

While the Global Fund has had its critics, there can be no doubt that its ability to shift funding to the communities that need it is already established and will occur much more quickly than any new U.S.-designed program initiated for a similar purpose, activists say.

"The Bush plan is for 12 African nations and two Caribbean nations, and that’s it, and it doesn’t reflect the AIDS epidemic which is exploding in Asia, etc.," Krauss says.

The reason international AIDS groups are pushing for increased funding to the Global Fund is because it’s the only program available now that has some hope of saving lives of people living with AIDS in poor nations, Hermes says.

"The Global Fund is up and running and has been for two years, and it’s dispensing funds right now to programs that are utilizing treatment," Hermes says.

"And on the flip side of that, what the spin doctors in Congress are doing is that they are saying there is no way we could adequately spend $3 billion in the emergency plan for AIDS relief," he explains.

While it would take at least a couple of years for a new global AIDS plan to be fully implemented, this obstacle does not exist for the Global Fund, which is why Congress should approve spending the full $1 billion promised for the Global Fund, Hermes says.

Meantime, other wealthy nations are watching what the United States does more than what it says, and they also are underfunding the Global Fund, activists say.

"Australia has given nothing," says David Bryden, a spokesman with Global AIDS.

"Portugal hasn’t done its fair share, and it’s a former colonial power," he points out.

Miserly givers

While Italy has contributed a greater share of its gross domestic product than Great Britain and others, contributions from such affluent nations as Germany and Japan have been particularly miserly, Bryden says.

"We’ve given $200 million a year to the Global Fund, and the U.S. is one-third of the world’s gross domestic product and one-third of the world’s wealth," Krauss says. "We should be giving one-third of the money that’s needed to help fight AIDS, and that would be $2 to $3 billion a year."

"We are spending $1 billion a week on the Iraq war, and we are spending billions and billions of dollars on defense planes and helicopters that don’t work, that fall out of the sky," she adds.

"So there’s money to be had in this country to solve this epidemic, and the longer we wait the worst it’s getting, and we could soon have complete chaos in India, China, and Russia, because that’s where the epidemic is going," Krauss explains.