by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
At just the time when AIDS research has brought the world to the brink of new breakthroughs in treatment, funding to fight the disease is dwindling, a new report says.
A joint report by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNAIDS, and UNICEF shows that after years of considerable increases, international funding for HIV programs fell last year from $8.7 billion to $7.6 billion.
And the Global Fund, which channels money from governments and other donors into tackling AIDS and other key diseases, announced last week that it will be unable to give any new grants before 2014.
It blamed low interest rates and substantial budget problems in some donor countries.
'This delay could keep countries from their efforts to save lives at a time when the AIDS response has seen game-changing results,' said Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS.
'We feel this is a decisive moment,' the director of WHO's HIV department, Dr. Gottfried Hirnschall, said. 'It's so important at this time not to falter with committing the resources that are needed, to further bring down the level of new infections.'
In a statement to mark World AIDS Day, the international charity Oxfam said the pledge made by governments in June to increase the number of people receiving HIV treatment to 15 million by 2015 would be worthless without additional resources.
'If world leaders are serious about eliminating HIV and about preventing countless unnecessary deaths, they need to put their hands in their pockets and stump up the missing contributions,' the charity's senior policy adviser, Mohga Kamal-Yanni, said.
Oxfam said Italy, Germany, Japan, Spain, and the European Union have all either delayed or canceled promised payments to the Global Fund.
'I am not only upset - I'm furious. Cutting funds is not acceptable,' said Prof. Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, Nobel Prize-winning scientist and president-elect of the International AIDS Society.
She pointed out that in Cambodia, 90% of people with HIV are on treatment, but all patients there depend on the Global Fund.
'If these people don't have access & to the Fund in the next five or 10 years, the patients will have to stop their treatment and they will start to die again,' Barre-Sinoussi said.
'I don't want to see that after such wonderful effort by the politicians and the doctors there, who have worked so hard to improve the health system by organizing rural networks.'
'How can we accept going back to zero? It's impossible.'
Citing trials which show antiretroviral drugs can cut the risk of transmitting HIV by 96%, she added, 'This demonstrates that we're making very important progress on all the basics.'
This year, WHO reported that increased access to HIV services resulted in a 15% reduction of new infections over the past decade and a 22% decline in AIDS-related deaths in the last five years.
Barre-Sinoussi's concern is that at a time when there have been real advances in treatment for HIV/AIDS, and actual declines in the number of new infections in many countries, loss of funding will undo all the progress that has been made.
'If you stop treatment,' she explained, 'you get a strain of the virus that becomes resistant. And viruses don't have frontiers. And the scientific research will slow down. It's not just a question of progress on HIV/AIDS - the virus can teach us about abnormal inflammation and other chronic conditions, such as cancer.'
'It's not acceptable that the Global Fund has had to cancel its next round of grants.'
'The scientists are taking responsibility - but the decision-makers aren't. They'll be responsible if the HIV epidemic re-emerges.'
Sidibe was optimistic that new avenues of funding could be found, however.
'The Global Fund's new five-year strategy as well as its consolidated transformation plan are steps in the right direction. These plans should restore confidence and position the Global Fund as an important and effective financing mechanism for AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria,' Sidibe said in a UNAIDS statement.
'We need new financial modalities and sources of funding such as the financial transaction tax to maintain the momentum of the AIDS response. Using the advances in science, we can help countries to use the new investment framework to optimize results for people and save lives.'
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