G8 Leaders to Formally Unveil AIDS Fund, as Russia Announces $20M Contribution
As the G8 summit opens today in Genoa, Italy, leaders of the world's most industrialized nations are this evening expected to "formally unveil" the Global AIDS and Health Fund, intended to battle HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in the developing world (Knox, Agence France-Presse, 7/20). The Wall Street Journal reports that the fund, first proposed by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, could be "the most promising measure to come out of the talks," which are also expected to touch on debt relief, the Japanese recession and global warming. However, the Journal notes that current contributions to the fund -- which the newspaper places at $1.7 billion -- still "fal[l] short of calls" by Annan, who has estimated the fund needs between $7 billion and $10 billion to be effective (Rhoads et al., Wall Street Journal, 7/20). Meanwhile, Russia announced earlier today that it will contribute 600 million roubles (about $20 million) to the fund, though the nation is "better known these days for receiving international aid than giving it," Reuters reports. With an "explosion" of HIV/AIDS cases in recent years, Russia and nearby Ukraine have the "fastest-growing" epidemics in Europe (Reuters, 7/20). Russia is among the nations attending the G8 summit, along with Germany, Italy, France, Canada, Japan, Britain and the United States.
The Journal also reports that President Bush will likely "lobby" other G8 leaders to support a plan, announced earlier this week, to provide a larger share of financial assistance to developing nations through grants rather than loans (Wall Street Journal, 7/20). Speaking on Tuesday at World Bank headquarters, Bush proposed that the bank provide up to 50% of its assistance to developing countries through grants, thus allowing the countries to "alleviate the debt that burdens" their economies. Proponents of debt reduction say it would help the countries allocate more funding toward HIV/AIDS and other health initiatives (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/18). However, Bush has said that he will not offer additional U.S. funds to the World Bank, and "critics contend" that without such a funding increase, moving away from loans will leave the bank with less money to distribute (Wall Street Journal, 7/20).
An editorial in the Washington Post calls Bush's focus on poverty alleviation "admirable," but says that the president must "now back his words with action," adding, "A renewed fight against poverty will cost money." The editorial says that while Bush "may be correct" that the World Bank should move from loans to grants, the United States and other wealthy nations must contribute more money to make such a shift possible. In addition, the editorial calls for increased U.S. donations to the global AIDS fund, conceding that while the nation gives "nearly $1 billion a year in AIDS assistance through other channels," the $200 million it has pledged to the AIDS fund is not enough. "If the United States, accounting for nearly a quarter of world output, were to give its proper share, it would double current spending," the editorial concludes (Washington Post, 7/20). Similarly, in a Toronto Globe and Mail op-ed, Harvard Center for International Development Director of International Health Amir Attaran says that low funding levels for HIV/AIDS are "intolerable." At the G8 summit, leaders will "probably agree on statements such as 'AIDS is one of the biggest health problems in the world,'" Attaran says. "Trouble is, the G7 leaders ... mouthed just these words about AIDS in 1987," he adds, noting that "these same ... countries have given almost nothing [to fight AIDS] since 1987." Attaran concludes, "The next few days in Genoa will be a unique political test for G8 leaders. HIV/AIDS is now the most numerically lethal pandemic in 650 years, surpassed only by the Black Death plague of 1347. ... Business as usual, if it consists of talk and a few pennies, will within two years make this the worst pandemic in human history. If the G8 leaders care about their historical legacy, they must take notice" (Attaran, Toronto Globe and Mail, 7/20).