Plea For Cash To Fight Killer Maladies

A global project that offered hope to the victims of diseases that kill six million people a year is in danger of collapsing because the world's richest countries have failed to finance it, pressure groups said Monday.

Health groups from around the globe have launched a "Fund the Fund" campaign, demanding that the world's richest countries meet the long-term needs of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

They launched their campaign on the first day of the U.N. World Health Assembly in Geneva and less than two weeks before the start of the Group of Eight summit in nearby Evian, France. The Global fund was a G8 initiative.

"The Global Fund was launched with tremendous fanfare at three G8 summits in a row," said Paul Davis, of the U.S.-based pressure group Health GAP.

"If they allow the Global Fund to collapse because they are too stingy to contribute the dollars, it means the people in these countries…will continue to die. There will be a loss in faith to the international community, and it would be a tremendous black eye to the G8 leaders."

Since it started work at the beginning of 2002, the Global Fund has paid out more than $1.5 billion in more than 90 countries.

It has increased six-fold the number of patients receiving AIDS treatment, provided TB treatment for more than 2 million people and funded protection against malaria for more than 6 million people. It also has provided help for half a million AIDS orphans.

But it has yet to receive any of the $1.4 billion it needs by October to finance its third round of projects.

"If we have no money, we must decide who can live and who must die," said Massimo Barra, of the Italian Red Cross. "This isn't acceptable in the third millennium."

The campaigners point out that failure to provide money for the fund this year would mean that some projects that have already started would have to be stopped, meaning patients who have already started receiving AIDS drugs might have their treatment withdrawn.

They want to see a long-term commitment based on nations' share of world gross domestic product. That would mean that a third of the money would come from the United States, while almost a quarter would be from the 15 countries of the European Union and Japan would pay 14 percent.

Last week the U.S. Senate approved a five-year, $15-billion measure to fund AIDS programs worldwide. In principle it sets aside $1 billion this year for the Global Fund, but only if other countries come up with money as well.

"A bill is not the same as a check," said Davis. "If other donor countries contribute, then the United States will make a serious and long-overdue contribution. If there are not major new contributions, then the Bush administration will contribute as little as $200 million."

The administration's plan, which involves $10 billion in new funding and $5 billion in previously announced measures, would allot $2 billion in fiscal year 2004 and increase funding in the years that follow.

The package passed by the Senate recommends that 55 percent of direct aid go to treatment programs, 20 percent to prevention, 15 percent to palliative care and 10 percent to children orphaned by the disease.