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Wealthy Countries Urged to Increase Donations to Global Fund to Fight AIDS - 2002-11-29

Officials of leading international organizations say the Global Fund to Fight AIDS will not have enough money to fulfill its mission unless wealthy countries, including the United States, dramatically increase their donations. The call is being issued to coincide with World AIDS Day.

The public-private Global Fund to Fight AIDS was founded earlier this year to raise money from donor countries and organizations to combat a disease organizers say is spiraling out of control.

The organizers believe only an effort of the fund's determination and magnitude can bring the AIDS epidemic under control.

Richard Feachem, director of the fund, says "it is by far the largest catastrophe to befall humankind in recorded human history. It's already a good deal worse than the black death in the middle of the 14th century. And on current projections, the epidemic isn't going to peak until about 2050 - 2060."

Since the start of the epidemic in 1981, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) says almost 22 million people have died of the disease. Last year, 5 million people became infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and there were 40 million people living with AIDS.

The United Nations estimates $15 billion is needed to fight the global pandemic. The Global Fund thinks the figure is closer to $30 billion. Donor countries, including many in the Third World, have pledged more than $2 billion to the Global Fund. Of that, Mr. Feachem says $700 million is in the bank.

The fund has so far made two outlays to determine where the need is greatest. Between now and Christmas, Mr. Feachem says the fund will begin writing $600 million in checks. But without an immediate infusion of cash, he says the fund's outlook is bleak. Mr. Feachem says the fund needs an additional $7 billion. "That's a need not for pledges of $7 billion, but for $7 billion actually in our bank account by the end of 2004," he says. "And we are calling loudly with our partners and collaborators for those funds to be made available. Without that, the third round, which will occur in the middle of next year, will be put in serious jeopardy."

AIDS activists have criticized wealthy nations, including the United States, Japan and countries of Western Europe, for not contributing more to the Global Fund. They've singled out the United States in particular, which this year pledged $200 million for a total amount of $500 million. Critics think the United States ought to contribute at least $2 billion.

Jeffrey Sachs is director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York. Mr. Sachs points to the estimated tens-of-billions of dollars it would cost to wage a war with Iraq. "When we talk about the United States contributing $2 or $3 billion to the fight against AIDS to save millions of lives, you can see we're talking about an absolutely manageable sum," he says. "It's one of commitment, not of means. It's one of the [Bush] administration outlining what it's going to do, explaining why it's contributing to the global fund. And the numbers are so modest compared to our wealth and our capacity that my own view is that this would receive a ringing endorsement in the country for finally, finally, having an approach that stands a chance of curbing the pandemic."

Mr. Sachs and other supporters of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS are calling on President Bush to develop a plan of action for the United States to help fight the pandemic, which he can unveil when he visits Africa early next year.