G8 Summit Concludes with Pledge to Support Fights Against AIDS, Poverty in Developing Countries
Amid violent protests that led to the death of one demonstrator, leaders from the world's seven wealthiest nations and Russia yesterday concluded the G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, pledging to fight AIDS and poverty in developing countries, the Washington Times reports (Sammon, Washington Times, 7/23). As expected, the leaders endorsed the Global AIDS and Health Fund, intended to battle HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in the developing world, with initial donations totalling $1.3 billion (BBC News, 7/22). Meeting on the opening day of the summit, President Bush joined the leaders of Great Britain, France, Japan, Germany, Canada, Italy and Russia in announcing a formal commitment to the fund, first proposed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (Hutcheson, Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/21). Bush announced the U.S. contribution of $200 million in May; Britain and Japan have matched that amount, Germany has pledged $150 million, France $120 million and numerous African countries a sum of roughly $12 million (Sanger, New York Times, 7/21). Russia also announced on Friday that it will contribute $20 million to the fund (Pagani, Reuters, 7/20). Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said, "We have high hopes to see this fund rise to $2 billion" (Cox News/Baltimore Sun, 7/21).
Annan Praises G8
Annan, invited by Berlusconi to attend the summit, praised the contributions, but said that more funding was necessary to tackle the HIV/AIDS epidemic successfully. "For the first time, we are seeing the emergence of a response to this deadly disease that begins to match the scale of the epidemic itself. But the battle against AIDS will not be won without the necessary resources. We need to mobilize an additional $7 (billion) to $10 billion ... to fight this disease," he said (Drozdiak, Washington Post, 7/21). The New York Times reports that Annan's message was one that the G8 leaders, "facing increasingly slow economic times and tight budgets, would rather not have heard" (New York Times, 7/21).
A Chorus of Criticism
The size of the contribution was criticized as being too small by many advocacy groups, some of which are among the "thousands of demonstrators" that descended on Genoa to protest what they believe is an unfair disparity between rich and poor nations (Cox News/Baltimore Sun, 7/21). Asia Russell of the Health Gap Coalition and ACT UP said that the current size of the global AIDS fund "ignores the millions of poor who are dying without access to affordable AIDS treatment" (Gerstenzang, Los Angeles Times, 7/21). Ellen t'Hoen of Doctors Without Borders said that the fund was at risk of becoming a "subsidy" to U.S. and European drug makers unless a "proper strategy" to distribute generic drugs to poor countries was developed. "We are here at the G8 summit to demand the governments of the richest countries of the world take note of the needs of millions of people living in developing countries and put people's lives over profits of U.S. and Europe-based industry," she added (Reuters, 7/20). In the final summit communique, the leaders "welcom[ed]" the actions taken by drug makers to reduce medicine prices and noted that they "will work with the pharmaceutical industry and with affected countries to facilitate the broadest possible provision of drugs in an affordable and medically effective manner" (London Independent, 7/23).
The G8 leaders on Friday also met with several leaders of developing nations to discuss "mov[ing] beyond debt relief" -- the "first time that leaders of smaller nations were invited" to a G8 summit meeting, the New York Times reports. The leaders discussed a proposal from President Bush announced last week that up to 50% of new aid to developing nations be distributed as grants instead of loans, but the idea "failed to win the endorsement of [Bush's] colleagues, and he committed no new cash for debt relief," the Times reports (New York Times, 7/21). Bush also criticized the protestors at the summit, saying, "I reject the isolationism and protectionism that dominates those who would try to disrupt the meetings in Genoa. ... Instead of embracing policies that help the poor, you embrace policies that lock poor people into poverty, and that is unacceptable to the United States" (AP/Arizona Republic, 7/21). Some AIDS activists say that the success of the Global AIDS Fund is dependent on increasing debt relief. "With many of these developing countries already spending twice the amount on debt servicing as they do on health, these miserly donations will be gone almost before they are received," Julie Davids of the Health GAP Coalition said (Washington Post, 7/21). The Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, a Britich Catholic aid agency, said in a statement, "G8 loan sharks spotted in Genoa Bay. ... The cost of this summit in Genoa alone could have paid for the debts of Ghana" (Kirchhoff, Boston Globe, 7/21).
IAVI Presses for Greater Vaccine Funding
Meanwhile, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative on Friday called on the G8 nations to boost funding for AIDS vaccine research by $1.1 billion and to "assure that it is focused on the needs of the most affected countries." This addition to current funding, which IAVI calls "shamefully low," would allow for at least 25 new vaccine candidates to be designed and tested over the "next several years." IAVI president and CEO Dr. Seth Berkley, announcing the release of a new briefing paper in coordination with the G8 summit, said, "Every day we delay means 15,000 people become newly infected. A safe, effective vaccine is the world's best hope for ending the pandemic, yet best estimates are that only $430 million to $470 million is currently being invested globally in AIDS vaccines [research and development]. Efforts to develop a vaccine to end the worst epidemic since the Great Plague receive less than 1% of total global spending on health [research and development]." The briefing paper also examines the progress of various vaccine research efforts and calls for the G8 nations to "make a firm commitment now to purchase and deliver AIDS vaccines as soon as they become available" (IAVI release, 7/20). The briefing paper is available online.