Sunday, August 16, 2009

Making HIV/AIDS Funding Recession-Proof

There is a growing consensus among the scientific and human rights community that the best way to help lengthen the lives of millions of people who are HIV/AIDS positive, is to universalize access to quality treatment and expand medical care rights. But universal access to antiretroviral treatment will require significant new investments from state governments. So what to make of this human rights necessity in light of the so- called Great Recession of 2009?

Taking on experimental roles in the struggle against HIV/AIDS, non-governmental organizations and for-profit corporations are picking up some slack as state governments face new fiscal constraints due to the global recession. Pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Mylan have committed to lowering the prices on medicines for patients with drug-resistant HIV as part of an agreement with former President Bill Clinton and his Clinton Foundation. Despite the good work of non-state actors, it is easy to recognize the dangerous possibility that some state governments will use the current recession as a justification to withdrawal from providing medical services to the poorest individuals living with HIV/AIDS.

The International AIDS Society, which is the world's leading independent association of HIV/AIDS professionals, has warned that sharp national budget cuts from HIV/AIDS support in the developing world have already taken place by some state governments. The continued trend of underfunding vital social and public medical programs will only cause serious setbacks to getting HIV/AIDS treatment to areas with the greatest amount of need, the Society has said. The global economic downturn is also having an adverse effect on migrants as important AIDS programs are threatened by donor and state government program cuts, warned a new UN report released at the 9th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and Pacific.

In the past, wealthier Western nations have spoken about their intentions to financially support developing countries in the fight against HIV/AIDS. However, the president of the International AIDS Society, Julio Montaner blasted the G8 for their apparent lack of concern with the HIV/AIDS crisis, even calling their silence "criminal" after their last meeting. He also accused them of using the crisis as a cop out.

Though price-cutting actions of pharmaceutical companies are very relevant, the vast majority of antiretroviral funding comes from governments and non-profit donors. We must do everything in our power to secure more public resources for the struggle against HIV/AIDS. Despite progress, in South Africa alone it is estimated that 61% of deaths are attributable to HIV/AIDS related complications. State governments should be encouraged to do more even as the means to do so are more constrained under the current economic slow-down. If the international community and individual state governments fail to live up to their prior commitments regarding HIV/AIDS funding, it will be a casualty not simply of the recession but misdirected public priorities.

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