Independent humanitarian aid agency, Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), is urging major donors not to ‘wipe out gains’ made by the roll out of anti-retrovirals (ARVs) by ‘retreating from their international funding commitments’.
In a report titled ‘Punishing success? Early Signs of a Retreat from Commitment to HIV/AIDS Care and Treatment’, which was published recently, the MSF singled out the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria as having reduced their funding commitments to the response to AIDS. These are two major organisations supporting crucial AIDS treatment programmes in the developing world.
‘We are told by the White House in the United States that the budget coming from the White House to Congress this month will have a flat funding of PEPFAR for 2011. This will have disastrous effects on the countries that are relying upon PEPFAR funds’, said Sharonann Lynch, MSF Policy Advisor.
The MSF also raised concern over the ‘funding deficit of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund)’.
Lynch said ‘in 2008 alone, the Global Fund had to cut funds to already approved proposals by US$ 1, 5 billion (R11, 2 billion)’.
Some African countries are already feeling the effects of this ‘retreat’ in funding commitments.
‘In Uganda, currently, PEPFAR supported facilities have been told that they must suspend treatment for new patients in need. Some are doing what they can, at least, putting pregnant women on treatment or putting the very sick on treatment or people who have TB/HIV co-infection’, said Lynch.
‘Others have been told that they can only put new people on treatment if someone dies that is currently on ARVs, thus freeing up the space or if someone has been lost to follow-up. None of that is good news’, she continued.
Dr Tido von Schoen-Angerer, Director for MSF Campaign to Essential Medicines, said backtracking on funding ARVs will result in the premature death of those in desperate need of the life-saving drugs.
‘AIDS is a continuing emergency. In the 10 highest HIV prevalence countries, AIDS continues to be the leading cause of death. Eighty percent of the deaths in Botswana are due to AIDS. Two-thirds of all deaths in Lesotho, Swaziland (and) Zimbabwe are due to AIDS’, he said.
The dwindling financial support for ARV programs by western donors is an ‘international betrayal’, according to Dr Eric Goemaere MSF Medical Coordinator in South Africa and Lesotho.
‘The message five years ago was very clear: ‘Be ambitious, scale up, recommit to universal access by 2010! Go for it and we will support you’! Today, there is a message saying, ‘well, we are not sure that we can support you’’, said Dr Goemaere.
‘This reminds me of some sort of ‘medical apartheid’ that definitely none of us in the MSF wants to live through’, he added.
Dr Goemaere further cautioned against ‘undermining the dramatic gains made’ in encouraging people to know their HIV status.
‘Ten years ago in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, we tested 1 000 people per year. Today, we test close to 40 000 people per year’.
‘What does it mean’, he asked?
‘’We trust that if we test positive you are going to provide us with treatment’. That’s what it means’, he gave the answer.
‘If there’s no treatment, nobody goes for a test’, he concluded.