Amid the sober economic discussions at the just-concluded World Economic Forum summit of business, economic, and health leaders in Davos, Switzerland, a current $5-billion shortfall in financing the worldwide campaign against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria poses a daunting challenge to donors and to recipients in developing  countries.  So far, the message that world business and health planners have drawn from the conference is that despite the bleak outlook, the benefits of backing the global fund far outweigh the economic consequences of not tackling these debilitating afflictions.  Joanne Carter is executive director of the Results Education Fund, a Washington, DC-based grass roots anti-poverty group.  She says that the message she has been hearing from sources at Davos is still supportive of meeting these obligations.

"Not only does it continue to be important to keep these commitments, but it actually becomes more important in the face of what poor individuals are facing and what national governments are facing in the face of these economic crises.  So it was definitely a somber Davos, but there was a pretty clear message that came out of this, that we have to maintain these health commitments and we have to maintain these commitments on fighting poverty," she said.

The $5-billion gap between money available to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria and commitments made to needy countries does not represent a failure of donors to come up with needed funds.  On the contrary, Carter says, it points out the success of the fund in making momentous progress in reversing the spread of the diseases.

"The Global Fund to Fight AIDS,TB, and Malaria, which is facing this $5-billion financing gap for 2009 and 2010, is a product of the fund's success in many ways because in fact, a number of years ago, the donors had said that if countries could actually reach the level of demand, the Global Fund's own board, which includes donor countries and developing countries, and in fact the G-8 and Germany, all committed to actually providing the financing that was needed if demand was there.  And so what's happened is we've seen a scale up of demand, but the Global Fund will need about $8-billion.  It only has about $3-billion in the bank from donors.  That's where the gap is," she noted.

As for the cost-effectiveness of pursuing the health crusade, compared to other governmental, security, administrative, or antipoverty priorities, Carter says the medical campaign has demonstrated remarkable gains everywhere it has operated.

"I think it could be argued that the Global Fund is the most innovative, far-reaching, results-driven health financing mechanism that we've got, providing two-thirds of the external financing for TB and malaria, a quarter for AIDS. Not only does it continue to be really important to fund these health programs in the context of this financial crisis.  It actually becomes more important because we know that one of the biggest economic drags on poor people is health problems.  So if we don't actually have these resources to supplement what countries are able to do, what you're going to see is a kind of double or triple impact of this economic crisis on poor people and on national economic productivity," she cautions.

While many customary business attendees shied away either from appearing or from offering up daring, enterprising new proposals at this year's toned-down Davos summit, Carter contends that governments and international agencies are continuing to make a difference by committing infusions of billions of dollars toward caring for societies' priorities.  She notes US President Barack Obama's pledge to honor spending level goals of the Global Fund, and says she is optimistic that governments will see fit to continue financing badly needed health and anti-poverty programs.