Tuesday, March 15, 2005



U.S. Activists Rally for Greater Commitments to Fight Disease Worldwide

Abid Aslam    OneWorld US
Mar. 16, 2005

WASHINGTON, D.C., Mar. 16 (OneWorld) - Health and humanitarian activists and medical students, concerned about three epidemics that kill about six million people a year, are pressing some of the world's wealthiest countries to increase their support of international efforts to fight AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis (TB).

Sharing a special concern for Africa, where activists said AIDS alone kills some 6,500 people a day and where the number of infections could rise to 100 million in five years if efforts to curb the epidemic aren't stepped up, they formed an alliance and took the streets here Tuesday.

Groups ranging from the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and Health Global Access Project (Health GAP) to Africa Action and the American Medical Students Association issued an open letter addressed to the heads of government of some of the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrial countries.

''American activists are calling on you...to do more than simply put Africa on the agenda,'' said the alliance, which also includes debt activists Jubilee USA Network and the Fifty Years is Enough Network, a group that targets the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) because it regards them as agents of people-unfriendly types of economic power. ''You must make several basic commitments.''

They demanded full cancellation of debt claims against African countries by multilateral institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which are due to discuss a plan to finance such a move when they hold twice-yearly meetings of their shareholders' finance and aid ministers here next month.

They further demanded full funding for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and TB, a Geneva-based agency thought up by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan but that operates independently of the world body.

''We are gathered at the embassies of these rich and powerful countries to call for 100 percent debt cancellation without harmful conditions for impoverished countries in Africa and throughout the global South,'' said Salih Booker, Africa Action's executive director. ''These debts are illegitimate, they are costing thousands of lives each day, and they must be cancelled now.''

Many African, Asian, and Latin American countries spend more on debt repayments each year than they can expend on health care, education, or fighting AIDS, added Neil Watkins, national coordinator of the Jubilee USA Network.

The groups delivered their letter--addressed to Britain's Tony Blair, Canada's Paul Martin, France's Jacques Chirac, Germany's Gerhard Schroeder, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, Japan's Junichiro Koizumi, and George W. Bush of the United States--at the G8 members' embassies here. In addition, they held rallies at four of them.

The action was timed ahead of next month's World Bank and IMF meetings and a July G8 leaders' summit in Scotland. It also coincided with talks this week in Stockholm on replenishing the Global Fund.

''As we watch the body count rise, the richest nations in the world pinch pennies and bankrupt the Global Fund for AIDS, Malaria and TB,'' said Health GAP's Paul Davis.
''Japan has pledged a mere one third of its fair share contribution to the Global Fund for fiscal year 2005 while Germany has paid less than one sixth of its equitable contribution.''

''We have seen G8 meeting after meeting where the leaders talk about what a travesty AIDS is and how it is unconscionable to ignore a pandemic. It has been three years since the Global Fund was launched and in those three years contributions have lagged behind grand words while the AIDS pandemic explodes. If the G8 doesn't change its tune, we are looking at the decimation of entire continents,'' Davis added.

The protesters also urged the United States to do its ''fair share'' by contributing $1.5 billion. Washington supports the Global Fund but holds most of its money for separate U.S. initiatives. Officials here have said they have greater control over their own efforts but some of these have been assailed as skewed to the point of offering advice on abstinence at the expense of tried and tested ways to prevent and check the disease's spread.

The Global Fund, Davis said, remained the only multilateral funding organization providing comprehensive, science-based prevention and reliable, cost-effective treatment. Agency and donor officials also have said that its independence from the United Nations and strict project audits earn it the trust of governments skeptical about multilateral aid organizations.

Yet, the fund faces a shortfall just three years after its birth and needs donors to commit billions of dollars over the next few years, according to its chief.

''The shortfall in 2006 and 2007 is very substantial because up until now most donors have pledged year by year, they haven't made long-term multi-year pledges,'' Richard Feachem was quoted as saying in an interview with the Reuters news agency. ''It is merely optimism that the money will be available.''

AIDS treatment especially is a long-term commitment and the Fund needs to know how much financing it can count on in coming years.

Peter Piot, the head of UNAIDS, which has lead responsibility for U.N. efforts to fight the AIDS epidemic, was quoted by Reuters as saying it was vital to predict fund flows so that ''five years down the road we won't run into the situation where we have to tell patients, 'I am sorry, we are running out of money,' which is basically a death sentence.''

Donors have pledged $6 billion to the Global Fund so far, Feachem said, but it needs one third as much again to meet its current commitments. The fund reportedly supports some 300 projects in 180 countries.

Feachem said he hoped this week's Stockholm conference would accept his estimate that the fund needs $3.5 billion in 2006 and slightly more in 2007. Donor nations are scheduled to meet in London in September to settle the size of their commitments.

Those financing needs represent a small portion of the $20 billion per year the United Nations has estimated is needed to fight AIDS alone.

For the world's poor, access to treatment hinges not only on money but also on the availability of affordable drugs.

India's parliament holds millions of lives worldwide in the balance as it debates the country's implementation of a World Trade Organization pact regulating patents on medicines, said humanitarian agencies including Doctors Without Borders and some members of the alliance behind Tuesday's rallies.

The charities are urging lawmakers in the South Asian powerhouse not to approve proposed amendments to India's 1970 patent law that, in the groups' view, would limit and perhaps even prevent the production and supply to other developing countries of vital treatments by Indian drug companies.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005



**Join hundreds of AIDS activists in demanding that the world's wealthiest countries make a REAL commitment to ending AIDS.  Come to Washington DC, and put the heat on the nations that have the money to fund the fight against AIDS!**  

**To sign up for a FREE seat on the bus to Washington, contact Aaron Boyle at aeb2106@columbia.edu, or call him at 917-621-6667**

WHO: All AIDS, human rights, and economic justice advocates in the NYC area -- in short, YOU!

WHAT: Protests and meetings at the embassies of the G7 countries, beginning in front of the French embassy at 2 PM.  

WHERE: A FREE bus to Washington will be leaving from African Services Committee, 429 W. 127th Street, between Morningside and Amsterdam.  (Take the A, B, C, or D train to 125th Street)

WHEN: Leaving Tuesday, March 15, at  8 AM, and returning to NYC that night.

WHY: Right now, the world's wealthiest countries are shamefully stalling in the fight against the AIDS crisis.  Debt cancellation would provide the nations hardest hit by HIV/AIDS with millions of additional dollars to fight the disease in their own countries.  And the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria   who, unlike the Bush administration, consistently funds safe-sex education, condom distribution, the use of generic medications, and other scientific prevention methods and low-cost treatment strategies   is on the verge of bankruptcy.  We must demand that the wealthy G7 nations drop the debt and fund the Global Fund.  We must demand that rich countries take action NOW to fight AIDS.

AIDS activist groups across the globe will be holding their own protests on March 15, as well.  This day of action comes at a key time in the AIDS fight as the G7 Development Ministers meet and the Global Fund holds a replenishment conference all in the same week.

PLEASE JOIN US!       Tuesday, March 15



Contact Aaron Boyle
email aeb2106@columbia.edu, or call 917-621-6667.





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