Donor cuts to AIDS programmes threaten progress, endanger lives

While years of sustained political interest and funding for HIV/AIDS programmes made inroads against the disease, a recent report by the international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned that current commitment to the fight is waning and cuts  in funding threaten to undermine progress made and could reverse any positive trend.  MSF called on donor nations to sustain funding with the message that now is not the time to quit.

Amongst groups reducing their spending on AIDS, the Global Fund has felt pressure from its donors to cap funding and is facing a serious funding shortfall.  Other donors cutting back include UNITAID, which is phasing out its funding, the World Bank, which has shifted its priorities elsewhere, and PEPFAR, the the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief Fund, which has flatlined its funding for the next few years.

Funding cuts are already affecting AIDS programmes in Congo, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe.  According to the WHO, approximately 33 million people around the world are living with HIV, the majority of which live in developing countries.

Of the 9.6 million people needing anti-retroviral therapy in low- and middle-income countries, over half of them (58 percent) do not have access to treatment.  A lack of funding equates to a lack of treatment for those in dire need of it.  Not only will clinics be unable to effectively continue treating those already receive it, many won’t be able to enrol new patients who will die as a result.

Jimmy Gideyi, an AIDS activist from Kenya, is a prime example of what providing treatment to those affected with HIV/AIDS means.  When Jimmy first began taking anti-retroviral drugs, he was too weak to work.  However, treatment soon allowed him to regain his strength and enabled him to work and support his three sons.  Funding AIDS programmes doesn’t just translate into a healthier population.  A healthier population translates into a more productive workforce able to lift itself out of poverty.

A cut in funding would be particularly detrimental to progress in light of a recent study claiming the WHO’s new guidelines on when to start anti-retroviral treatment, which recommend treating earlier in the disease’s progress, could prevent over 90 percent of maternal deaths among HIV-positive women and up to 90 percent of mother-to-child HIV transmission during birth or after delivery.

According to WHO statistics, an estimated 430,000 children are born with HIV every year.  Fortunately, the percentage of pregnant women living with HIV who received anti-retroviral treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission has steadily increased over the last few years.  Scaling back AIDS programme spending now would seriously undermine this trend.

The new Born HIV-Free Initiative to ensure that no child is born with HIV by 2015 couldn’t be timelier.  The campaign is currently calling for additional financing for the Global Fund.  You too can show your support for the initiative by signing your name to the campaign.

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