British Government, HIV/AIDS Advocates Warn Decreased Aid Budgets Could Lead To Reversals In HIV/AIDS Treatment Progress

Recent gains in the global fight against HIV/AIDS could be reversed as the “global economic downturn pinches poor countries’ budgets and donors show signs of backing away from their promise to provide universal access to AIDS treatment,” the British government together with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) warned Tuesday, Reuters AlertNet reports.

“At an ’emergency meeting‘ in London to reinvigorate international efforts to fight the pandemic, the British government urged countries in the G8 group of industrialised nations to live up to their financial pledges to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and called on other G20 countries, including emerging economies, to put money into the fund,” the news service writes.

As part of the 2005 G8 summit, world leaders pledged to provide universal HIV/AIDS treatment for those in need by 2010. Reuters AlertNet notes that while the WHO reports “access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) has expanded at a rapid rate,” with an estimated 42 percent of the 9.5 million people in need of treatment in low- and middle-income countries receiving the drugs – up from 33 percent in 2007 – “there are still at least 5 million people worldwide who don’t have access to the life-prolonging treatment.”

“As the economic downturn squeezes the health budgets of the world’s poorest countries, efforts to tackle HIV and AIDS – particularly amongst those who are marginalised and discriminated against – are being hit hardest,” Britain’s International Development Minister Gareth Thomas said in a statement. “As a consequence we face the very real prospect that progress on tackling HIV will go into reverse,” Thomas said, according to Reuters AlertNet.

Beverly Collin, health policy advisor at MSF U.K., told the news service, “The hope is that (rich nations) will continue to pledge the amount of money that is needed to slow the epidemic and ultimately end it. The concern is that they’re not going to pledge enough, that they’re not going to put the amount of money against the actual need” (Rowling, 3/9).  

Despite falling short on the universal access goal, VOA News reports HIV/AIDS advocates “fear HIV/AIDS prevention won’t be at the top of the agenda at this year’s [G8 and G20] summit in Canada.” The article includes comments by several advocates gathered at the London meeting, who discuss the impact of funding shortages on HIV/AIDS programs on the ground in Africa (Hennessy, 3/9).

Without More Funds, Developing Countries Could Struggle To Follow WHO HIV/AIDS Treatment Guidelines

IRIN/PlusNews reports on how funding shortfalls may make it difficult for developing countries to implement the WHO HIV/AIDS treatment guidelines that recommended earlier initiation of ART for children and adults. “WHO’s new recommendations are excellent in theory, but they did not give us a practical way of implementing the guidelines – already we have shortages of drugs in trying to put people with CD4s below 200 on treatment,” said James Kamau, coordinator of the Kenya Treatment Access Movement.

The article details the HIV/AIDS funding situation in Uganda, where the government is expected to soon release updated HIV/AIDS treatment guidelines based on the WHO’s recommendations. With these new guidelines, “officials said the number of people needing treatment would rise from 300,000 to about 750,000” – a number David Kigawalama, head of prevention services at the Uganda AIDS Commission, said would be “too great for [the country] to manage,” IRIN/PlusNews writes.

Uganda “recently suffered drug shortages in its public health sector, partially caused by funding problems,” according to the news service. (3/9).

“If WHO’s new recommendations are not implemented, the international community risks subsidizing less expensive yet sub-standard care for developing countries,” Sharonann Lynch, MSF’s HIV/AIDS policy advisor said in an MSF press release. “Avoiding this will depend on the willingness of donors to make new commitments. Although this is not easy in today’s financial environment, donor countries cannot back away from supporting the promise of universal access to treatment made five years ago,” she said (3/9).

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