HIV/AIDS funding options in this time of global economic crisis was the main issue raised at the 16th ICASA conference.
Rotimi Sankore a coordinator of CREDO for Freedom of Expression and Associated Rights, which focuses on rights issues in Africa, said that one of the smallest countries in Africa, Swaziland, has a prevalence rate of 25.9 percent which is constraining the country’s economy and ravaging the workforce. Swaziland may be the most affected country in terms of population but countries who have bigger populations like South Africa, Nigeria and India have over three million people carrying the virus with women and children the most affected. The economic crisis has affected the availability of anti-retroviral drugs especially in countries with large populations, he argued. For example, because of funding cuts, only around 300 thousand people receive anti-retroviral treatment out of 1.4 million people who need it in Nigeria. As such he said the Abuja commitments should be given priority and be implemented.
The Abuja declaration, adopted in 2001, by African leaders declared that the response to HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and other related infections would become the highest priority issue in the respective countries’ national development plans.
They had also set a target of allocating at least 15 percent of their annual budget for the improvement of the health sector and to mobilize all the human, material and financial resources required to provide transportation, support and quality treatment to their populations living with HIV, Tuberculosis and other related infections. However, only a handful of countries have achieved this target with a regional average of seven percent.
Rotimi Sankore said that considering the woeful numbers of African countries who have met the commitments, including developed and developing countries alike such as USA (18 percent), Rwanda (17 percent), Switzerland (19 percent) and Honduras (21 percent) show much can be achieved.
One other concern he raised was the issue of the extent of foreign donations highlighting Uganda’s, Mozambique’s, Eritrea’s and Ethiopia’s health budget which he said was comprised of foreign donations 88 percent, 80 percent, 60 percent and 40 percent respectively.
However he acknowledged that countries like Tanzania and Rwanda, although meeting the threshold of the Abuja commitments, are still investing 18 and 22 dollars per person which is a gap of around three thousand US dollars compared with the developed world and such organizations like Global Fund have to lend their solidarity to the health campaign.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is an international financing institution that invests the world’s money to save lives. To date, it has committed US$ 22.6 billion in 150 countries to support large-scale prevention, treatment and care programs against the three diseases.
An additional solution for the health needs of developing countries he proposed was increasing internal revenue, building capacity, prioritization in the budget by decreasing other budgets like for example the defense budgets especially for countries during peace time.
Elaborating on the need for capacity building he said a country like Malawi has 300 doctors for a population of 13 million while Cuba with a similar population has 79 thousand doctors, echoing the concern.
The Deputy Executive Director of the Global Fund Dr. Debrework Zewdie said the Global fund is well and alive but global health is in peril. She said the Global Fund met two weeks ago in Accra, Ghana to endorse its 2011-16 strategy to protect the lives of 10 million people although the bureaucracy for funding was a big problem.
She also said all donors with the exception of some small countries have completed their 2011-12 pledges with 67 percent going to Sub-Saharan countries despite concerns for limited funding because of uncertain economic times that have so far not affected the organization but are a concern for other similar organizations. She also said African governments must step up their health funding.