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April 25, 2010

Report Says AIDS Budget Cuts are a 'Death Sentence'

An international AIDS organization says a global pullback in spending on AIDS means the disease may once again become a death sentence for people living in developing countries. Caps are being set, it says, on the number of people receiving treatment and drug stocks are running out.

Aditi Sharma coordinated the report, which was published Monday by the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition.

"This was the year that the G-8 and the world promised universal access to HIV treatment and this is a key Millennium Development Goal too," said Sharma. "However, this is the year that we are fighting for the very survival of successful treatment programs across the world."

The ITPC looked in detail at the AIDS situation in six countries - Kenya, Malawi, Swaziland, India, Latvia, and Venezuela.

Sharma says in these countries help for victims of HIV/AIDS is diminishing.

"We are seeing that there are more frequent drug shortages - of anti-retroviral drugs but also medication to treat opportunistic infections and TB," added Sharma. "We are also seeing new patients being turned away from treatment programs because of caps and limits set by the donors or governments."

The problem, she says, is funding. Governments are cutting their HIV/AIDS budgets and funding from major donors is flat lining.

The report says the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria would need $20 billion over the next three years to meet the health-related Millennium Goals, but it said the budget is likely to be at least $7 billion short of that. The Global Fund's Executive Director, Michel Kazatchkine, said Monday the Fund is low on resources following the financial crash.

The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is the United State's main AIDS fund.

Under the presidency of George W. Bush, U.S. funding on HIV/AIDS soared. In 2009 President Barack Obama pledged $48 billion for HIV/AIDS over a five-year period, but the year-on-year rise in spending has tailed off and that target is far from being reached.

Sharma says a major problem is that money is being diverted to tackle other health issues, such as maternal mortality.

"The world needs to and can afford to increase their investment in both in both HIV/AIDS, in maternal health, in health systems," siad Sharma. "You can not do one without the other."

More than 30 million people around the world are estimated to be HIV-positive. According to the United Nations, more than half of the 9.5 million people who need AIDS drugs cannot get them. The Global Fund says it has saved almost five million lives since 2005.