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Airline Tax To Help AIDS, TB and Malaria

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy unveiled details Wednesday of a new initiative designed to provide medication and treatment for poor countries to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The plan will be funded by revenue from airline taxes.

France and Brazil first floated the idea of paying for treatment and medication to fight three of the worlds most deadly and preventable diseases several months ago. Now, the facility has a name - Unitaid - and the support of some 40 countries.

At a news conference in Paris, Foreign Minister Douste-Blazy says the money will go into an international account that will be used to buy medical supplies for poor countries. The effort, supported by the United Nations and other groups, aims to supplement rather than compete with existing efforts to battle AIDS, TB and malaria.

A doctor by training, Douste-Blazy notes that three diseases can be treated with medications. but these drugs are often unavailable to many sick people in developing countries. And the results are devastating.

Many of the 40 million adults and children affected by AIDS live in Africa and other developing regions, and have little or no access to treatment. Tuberculosis, which can also be prevented and treated, still kills two million people a year. Malaria is also treatable with medications, yet there are up to 500 million cases of malaria in the world, more than half of them in Africa.

The new funding initiative also aims to try to create special AIDS drugs for children. And Douste-Blazy urged pharmaceutical companies to cut their prices for drugs sent to poorer nations.

The money to buy the medications will be raised by new airline taxes of $1.30 on up imposed by 14 participating countries. Passengers traveling from France will have to start paying the tax as of July 1.

Erik Solheim, the development minister of Norway, which is participating in the program, says the airline tax is a modest one.

"There is not one single human being in the globe who can afford to buy an airline ticket who can't afford this levy on top," said Erik Solheim. "The levy in our country is less than one newspaper, one-half cup of coffee. It's simply nothing."

So far the new plan has backing from 40 countries and from high-ranking personalities like former U.S. President Bill Clinton. But airline companies are opposed to the tax, arguing it poses another burden on the financially troubled industry.