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Campaigners slam powers over crisis in AIDS fund

GENEVA, May 19 (Reuters) – The world Red Cross body and campaigning groups on Monday denounced as “outrageous” failure by rich powers to provide promised cash for the crisis-hit Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis.

They called on leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) top industrial nations meeting in France next month to commit themselves to regular financing for years into the future by fixed contributions from national budgets. “The situation is now reaching a crisis,” Massimo Barra of the Italian Red Cross told a news conference on the first day of the annual Assembly of the United Nations’ World Health Organisation (WHO), which backs the fund.

“It is outrageous in the 21st century that we face a situation where we may have to make decisions on who lives and who dies because we do not have enough money to do what we have to,” declared Barra, also an official of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). The Fund, championed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, was created in 2001, and inaugurated at the G8 summit in Genoa the same year, to channel cash directly to people hit by the three diseases killing some six million people a year.

But despite initial pledges topping $2.0 billion only $1.5 billion has come in. “There is no more fund in the fund,” said Helene Rossert, a French doctor who represents non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from wealthy economies on the fund’s board.

NEW CAMPAIGN

The two, and activists from the United States, were launching a campaign to win pledges from major powers for quick cash injections and long-term financing for the fund — which needs a further $1.4 billion by October to pursue its work. The U.S. Congress last week passed an AIDS bill earmarking $15 billion over five years to fight the disease round the world, and Barra said this was welcome.

But most of it will go in bilateral programmes with a maximum $1.0 billion a year for the Global Fund, and then only on condition that other donors come up with double that amount. The campaign, also backed by the Geneva-based IFRC, is initially aimed at delegates to the WHO gathering including health ministers from rich and poor nations. With initial contributions, the Fund has started programmes providing anti-tuberculosis treatment to two million people and anti-malaria protection to 30 million African families.

These programmes will also bring medical treatment to half a million people living with AIDS and support another half a million AIDS orphans. But activists say this is only the start of what had to be a prolonged effort by richer economies who, a statement from “Fund the Fund” declared, “have stubbornly refused to muster the resources needed so desperately.”

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