Cutting AIDS funds risks “death sentence” – report


A global pullback from AIDS funding may mean HIV could again become a death sentence for people in the developing world, according to a report released today.

The International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC) found patients are being turned away from treatment programmes and AIDS drug stocks are running out because of government budget cuts and flatlined funding from major donors like the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPAR) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
“Governments, North and South, cannot afford to put the clock back and return us to the days when HIV was a death sentence,” said Aditi Sharma, coordinator of the report. The report said the Global Fund would need $20 billion over the next three years to help meet health-related U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but said G8 nations and other donors were warning that raising $13 billion is a stretch.
“If this trend continues, the result will be suffering and death for millions of people around the world currently living with HIV and the millions more who will be newly infected this year and the years to come,” said the report, called Rationing Funds, Risking Lives. It also highlighted funding pledges that had never properly been met or were being cut because of the global downturn.

The Global Fund, set up with the backing of the G8 rich nations in 2001, was billed as a $10 billion a year war chest to fight major diseases including AIDS, it said, but had in fact got only around $3 billion a year. The report, which looked in depth at the AIDS situations in India, Kenya, Latvia, Malawi, Swaziland and Venezuela, also accused U.S. President Barack Obama of using the global economic crisis to flatline funds for PEPFAR rather than offer year-on-year increases as in previous years.

The effects are already visible, with new patients turned away from PEPFAR-funded treatment programmes in Africa, it said. An estimated 33 million people around the world are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS, and more than half of the 9.5 million people who need AIDS drugs cannot get them, according to the United Nations.

The World Health Organisation recommends that treatment with AIDS drugs called anti-retrovirals (ARVs) should now be started sooner after HIV infection to protect health and prevent spread.

But in a foreword to the ITPC report, Peter Mugyenyi head of the Joint Clinical Research Centre in Kampala, Uganda, said he was seeing people there being denied treatment because funds were not coming through as promised.
“For the first time since 2004, some HIV-positive men and women who are in need of life-saving antiretroviral treatment are being turned away because of funding cuts,” he said. “Our greatest fear is that we may have to ration HIV medications for those already receiving treatment. How do you tell an HIV-positive mother that she can no longer have the drugs she needs to stay alive?”

In India the report found that access to AIDS drugs is severely limited because of strict eligibility criteria for the government programme and high cost in the private sector, while in Latvia the government was imposing limits on the number of patients provided with free treatment.