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AIDS Conference Ends with Pledges and Protests

At the end of the international conference on AIDS in Paris on Wednesday, world leaders talked of funding in excess of a billion dollars each. Protesters outside were not convinced.

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The Global Fund needs more money to continue its fight against HIV/AIDS

The international conference to highlight the progress of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria came to a close on Wednesday with European Commission President Romano Prodi committing personally a $1 billion (€0.8 billion) contribution from Europe for 2004.

"I am the guarantor for the one billion," Prodi said at the meeting's closing in Paris. "But you must respect that the European Union is a democracy of 15 sovereign states, and we don’t always agree on everything. Sometimes we work a little like the turtle in the fable: we may sometimes work slowly, but we can be trusted to reach our goals in the long run.”

The Paris conference, hosted by the French government, featured reports on progress made by countries receiving support from the fund, which was set up to attract, manage and distribute resources to reduce the spread of AIDS, TB and malaria around the world. The objective of the conference was to highlight the on-going work of projects financed by the Global Fund and to drum up more money in the struggle to treat and contain the diseases.

42 million infected

Esther Babalola HIV/AIDS in Sagamu, Nigeria, Medikamente

Waiting for treatment in Nigeria.

Figures from the United Nations show that around 20 million people have already died of AIDS-related while current estimates of those infected by the HIV/AIDS virus worldwide stand at approximately 42 million people. Of those, an estimated one-third are also infected with TB. Approximately 90 percent of people living with HIV die within a few months of becoming sick with TB if they do not receive proper treatment.

Since its inception in 2002, the Global Fund has approved grants worth $1.5 billion to more than 150 programs in 92 countries. The funding goes towards providing medications that help prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to infants and anti-retroviral treatment for more than half a million people living with HIV/AIDS as well as helping towards medical and educational support for an equal number of children orphaned by the disease.

The money will also be used in the detection and treatment of two million additional cases of TB, and deliver 20 million combination drug treatments for drug-resistant malaria. But in the fight against three of the world’s most virulent and potentially deadly diseases, the conference clearly showed that funding must continue.

Funding shortfall

Currently, the Global Fund has more projects and proposals on its desk than it can possibly finance, a difficult reality that has prompted the calls for larger donations. The fund has stated that it would like to spend more than $6 billion on research and projects, but it has so far received only $4.7 billion in donations for 2003.

Jacques Chirac EU Gipfel

France's President Jacques Chirac.

French President Jacques Chirac joined Prodi in rallying Europe to contribute, while also calling on the United States to allocate the same amount to the fund each year. Speaking to the 250-strong delegation of health and foreign affairs ministers, senior development officials, private sector executives and non-governmental organizations gathered for the special donor day, Chirac said: “I am convinced that this multilateral response expresses, better than any other, the ideal of solidarity and collective action that must impel us.”

“Turning the tide of AIDS, TB and malaria is a priority second to none,” United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said in his address in his address. “The Fund is there to fill a specific and substantial gap to scale up by providing effective funding (to fight the three diseases).”

More action required

Outside the conference hall and further afield, many people were not so convinced. Protesters called the final day a fiasco and were joined in voicing their frustration by a number of scientists. Many were scathing in their criticism of Western governments for failing to provide significant new money despite the apparently optimistic talk from leaders inside.

Vuyiseka Dubula from the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa told assembled reporters outside the venue, “Today’s donor conference was a scandal. There were no meaningful pledges. The wealthiest countries in the world are refusing the amounts of money needed in 2003 and 2004 to begin to save our lives.”

Commenting on the speeches made by Romano Prodi, Jacques Chirac and Kofi Annan amongst others, Dubula pointed out that funds have not been pledged, nor is there a timetable indicating when they may arrive.

Uphill battle for scientists

AIDS-Medikament

HIV/AIDS antiretroviral drug kit.

Scientists added to the calls for leaders to do more and to ensure that treatments were distributed to those who needed them. Professor Christine Katlama from the Pitie-Saltpetriere Hospital in Paris said, “When we fight for AIDS, we fight for the world and all infected HIV patients.”

“You cannot ask the scientists to find new treatments and when they've found treatments, they're not available for 90 percent of patients. No, they cannot accept that millions will die and the silent people who die every day.”

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