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UN Cites Huge Spending Shortfall to Combat AIDS

The United Nations AIDS Program says global donations are running far short of what is needed to combat the deadly virus over the next three years in developing nations. It is asking for billions more dollars, while at the same time, reducing its request for pledges for 2007.

UNAIDS says international donor funding will be about $8 billion short of what's needed to fight HIV through the end of 2007. The agency revealed the figure at a London meeting cosponsored by donor nations and organizations, recipient countries, and AIDS advocacy groups.

A conference document says last year's global AIDS spending of about $6 billion was a huge improvement over 2001 spending, which was two billion dollars. It projects the pool of donations to increase annually until it reaches $10 billion by 2007. But UNAIDS executive director Peter Piot says that is not enough.

"The need, that has not changed at all," he said. "The communiqué of the meeting calls for an additional $8.2 billion between 2005 and 2007. That is assuming that existing commitments and pledges are going to be honored."

UNAIDS says that if additional pledges are not made, the currently promised amounts would cover only slightly more than half of the world's need for HIV treatment and prevention initiatives by 2007. And even if the additional $8 billion is raised, UNAIDS says it would still cover only about 70 percent of need.

The agency is seeking to increase pledges to $14 billion by 2007. However, this is $6 billion less than the target it called for last July at the international AIDS conference in Bangkok. This downward revision has angered AIDS activist groups. The head of the Global AIDS Alliance in Washington, Paul Zeitz, says it is unheard of for an agency like UNAIDS to ask for less when the crisis is escalating.

"They've done a reanalysis of the numbers," he said. "However, they did not provide technical justification for this new number."

An official of the group Health Global Access Project, T. Richard Corcoran, accuses wealthy countries of pressuring UNAIDS to lower its HIV spending target.

"It's this ongoing fight to get money out of the rich nations of the world," he said. "It's not right what is happening."

But Peter Piot of UNAIDS says the agency lowered its donor pledge target for 2007, not because the need has changed, but because most nations lack the infrastructure to absorb more money.

"There are definitely what we call capacity restraints," he said. "Rolling out the programs takes time, [as do] training of people, setting up the procurement. This means that we have to take that into account in our estimates."