Global funding to combat HIV/AIDS essentially flattened in 2009 as the economic crisis forced governments in major industrialized countries to scale back their contributions, according to a new report.
The Group of Eight nations, the European Commission, and other donor governments donated $7.6 billion for AIDS treatment efforts in 2009, up slightly from $7.7 billion in 2008 in dollar terms but closer to flat given currency fluctuations, according to the report. Financing commitments made were $8.7 billion in both years.
The flattening of donations follows years of rapid growth. Funding for global health needs rose sharply from 2002, when the same donor governments’ contributions totaled $1.2 billion, through 2008.
The funding report, prepared by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), was released at the opening of the XVIII International AIDS Conference here, where the status and future of international support for treatment is a major concern.
Growing evidence shows that providing access to effective treatments isn’t only reducing deaths from the disease in areas of the developing world but can also significantly slow transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
But the growing costs associated with expanding access to treatments are running headlong into budgetary and other pressures in the U.S. and other countries that have been supporting an effort with a goal of providing universal access to care. World leaders had originally hoped that goal could be achieved this year.
“We face very significant challenges with regard to the global response” for HIV/AIDS,” said Julio Montaner, president of the International AIDS Society, which is sponsoring the conference. “We have treatments that work. What we need is the political will to go the extra mile to deliver universal access.”
The meeting’s opening plenary was delayed for a short time by a demonstration by several hundred activists who marched through the convention center chanting and carrying a large banner which read, “No Retreat. Fund Aids.” The group took over the stage of the large lecture hall where several thousand people were in attendance and then occasionally interrupted speakers after they retreated to the audience.
The report on funding marked the first time since at least 2002 when there wasn’t significant growth in contributions from the countries, said Jennifer Kates, a vice president and director of global health policy & HIV at the Kaiser Family Foundation. That was about the time two of the biggest programs to combat AIDS were launched — the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
The result was that beginning in the middle of the decade, treatment of patients with HIV/AIDS with anti-retroviral therapies in developing nations grew from less than a million to more than 5 million currently. “This unprecedented success proved many skeptics wrong,” Dr. Montaner told conference attendees. But more than 10 million more need treatment.
He gave little quarter to the argument that resources in the U.S. and other funding governments are so constrained as to force cutbacks in their commitment to the epidemic.
“Over the last year, the same leaders had absolutely no problem finding money to bail out their corporate friends, the greedy Wall Street bankers,” he said. “Yet when it comes to global health, the purse is always empty.”
Like most countries, the U.S., the world’s largest global health donor, accounting for more than half of governmental support, has slowed its giving. It is also devoting its global health dollars to a wider number of diseases as part of a strategy to reduce maternal and child mortality.
But funding from the U.S. still increased in 2009 to $4.4 billion from $3.95 billion, helping to make up for reduced donations from Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, and the Netherlands, the report found.
“The financial crisis shouldn’t be an excuse to flat-line or scale back,” Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, told attendees at the opening session. “The hopes of millions were put on hold.”