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Global Organizations Criticize US for Inadequate AIDS Funding - 2002-07-09

At the International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, officials of leading international organizations have sharply criticized the United States and other major donor countries for giving too little money to fight the AIDS pandemic. But the United States argues that it has dramatically increased its funding for the fight against the disease.

The United Nations says $10 billion is required to combat the expanding AIDS epidemic worldwide, but less than $3 billion is in the spending pipeline. That includes money already budgeted by donor countries, developing nations, and multilateral lending institutions.

The executive director of the United Nations AIDS Program, Peter Piot, told the Barcelona conference Tuesday that all the parties must increase their AIDS spending annually until this gap is filled. "At least 50 percent per year should be the minimum increase in the next few years," he said, "so nobody gets a free ride here. This is the minimum and non-negotiable."

The United States came in for special criticism for providing too little AIDS help. Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, a special advisor to the United Nations secretary-general, accuses the Bush administration of being confused about what funding is necessary to fight AIDS. He also charges it with collaborating with other donor countries in demanding that developing nations request less assistance from them.

Mr. Sachs says UNAIDS, the World Health Organization, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria are just three months away from presenting a plan to fill the AIDS spending gap that should leave no doubt in Washington about what the needs are. "I admit the United States government doesn't quite know that yet," Mr. Sachs commented. "But I think that within 90 days, it will know it. There can be a global plan of action with specific funding, which will eliminate the massive confusion which unfortunately continues to afflict the world's most important donor and the one that has failed most in meeting the challenge to this point."

U.S. health secretary, Tommy Thompson, got a more pointed reaction at the AIDS conference from protesters who jeered and whistled at him, nearly drowning him out while he praised the Bush administration's commitment to AIDS. Mr. Thompson pointed out that Washington will boost U.S. funding for AIDS programs from $14 billion to more than $16 billion next year.

"That includes a doubling of international HIV-AIDS funding over the same period. Let me repeat that," Mr. Thompson emphasized, "We have doubled international funding in just 18 months. We have made an unprecedented commitment to prevention programs, both at home and abroad."

Mr. Thompson says the United States has pledged $500 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, one fourth of the fund's resources. He called on European countries and other donors to recommit themselves to the Fund.

But Jeffrey Sachs says U.S. spending for the Fund should be five times that amount next year, or $2.5 billion, with another billion going directly to countries as bilateral help. The special United Nations envoy for AIDS in Africa, Stephen Lewis, says other donor nations will not go along unless the United States boosts its commitment first.

"The American shortfall induces a shortfall in the response of every other country," Mr. Lewis said.