Thousands of South Africans protested in front of the U.S. consulate in Johannesburg after the U.S. decided not to substantially increase its funding for AIDS programmes. The protesters called on the US to increase their contribution to the Global Fund to US$ 2.8bn by 2013, thereby allowing clinics to continue treatment and provide live-saving antiretroviral drugs to AIDS patients. Without this increase in funding, lack of resources ‘will condemn millions of newly infected patients to death and threaten the health of those already on treatment,’ according to a statement released by the protesters.
Approximately 33 million people worldwide are infected with HIV, the vast majority of whom live in low- and middle-income countries. An estimated 2 million people die from HIV/AIDS every year. HIV/AIDS overwhelms healthcare systems, obstructs educational development, and hinders agricultural production. It is estimated that half of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing a decrease in growth per capita as a direct result of AIDS. In South Africa, approximately 5.7 million people are infected with HIV. South Africa suffers from a higher rate of infection than any other country in the world.
Many children are left orphaned when both their parents die of AIDS. One of the South African protesters, Mathabo Labase, explained that she decided to participate in the protest because of the difficulties she faces raising her four orphaned grandchildren after their parents died of AIDS.
The protesters not only singled out the US, but also called on European donors, China, Japan, and Canada to commit to financing the Global Fund. The Global Fund is a public/private partnership that raises and disburses resources from donor countries to low-income countries with high rates of AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. This year, Global Fund donors will meet to discuss replenishment of the Global Fund so that it can continue funding health programmes that have shown high rates of success in delivering health outcomes. Since the Global Fund’s inception in 2002, 2.8 million AIDS patients have received antiretroviral treatment, 120 million HIV counselling and testing sessions were conducted, 4.5 million basic care and support services were provided to orphans and vulnerable children, and 930,000 HIV-positive pregnant women have received treatment to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child.
The protest in South Africa follows on the heels of recent report by the organisation Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) which warned that donor commitment to funding AIDS programmes is waning and emphasised that now is not the time to quit. The number of people living with HIV has steadily increased since the 1990s, partly because of the beneficial impact of antiretroviral therapy. Scaling back on funding programmes offering this life-saving treatment would be detrimental in the fight against AIDS.