The United Nations’ summit comes at a time when there is hope that AIDS in developing nations will be defeated. Over five million people are now receiving life-saving antiretroviral therapy, thus preventing death and ensuring people’s livelihoods. Thanks largely to programmes such as the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and Pepfar, the United States’ President’s Emergency Fund for HIV and AIDS. Their formations came after a resolution by rich nations to direct money to the response against AIDS and other diseases that stifle development in poor nations. But commitment is now waning and there are fears that gains made will be reversed. Professor Peter Mughenyi, a paediatrician from Uganda and a member of the council of the Campaign to End Paediatric AIDS, explains why it’s important for donors to continue funding AIDS programmes in poor countries.
‘AIDS is a lifetime disease and when we embark on funding a programme of that nature, we need to know that in funding such a programme, we have entered a partnership. This partnership means we have a moral and ethical responsibility of making sure that the programme that we fund sort of brands with the continuity. If there is no brand with the continuity, that’s not ethical funding’.
Mughenyi acknowledges that African governments have to get to a point where they assume greater responsibility for the health of their citizens as donor funding cannot be sustained indefinitely. But he argues that the continent is not yet self-sufficient.
‘Most of our governments are not yet strong enough to be able to undertake a crisis of this magnitude on their own. So, we call upon donors to strengthen their support and work side by side with partners, which are our governments, to make sure that we strengthen and build our health systems in a systematic way so that, eventually, we are able to take up the responsibility of our national health care of our patients’, he says.
He notes that two things will strengthen the response to the health challenge in Africa.
‘What Western countries can do first and foremost is to fulfill their pledges that they have made to make sure that the Global Fund is adequately funded to be able to provide the necessary resources. The next important thing that we need to note: When PEPFAR was announced, it was announced quite clearly that the support would be for a long time. Now only about seven years later, we are beginning to get faltering of the funding for a life-time crisis. This is sabotaging the progress that we have so far made. We need a long time commitment’, Mughenyi says.
In October, the Global Fund will hold its third replenishment pledging conference. The Fund has calculated that it will need to raise $20 billion at the replenishment conference.
The Fund has forecast that a full replenishment would support programmes over the next three years that would enroll 7.5 million people on ARVs, 6.8 million on TB treatment annually, get close to eradicating parent-to-child HIV transmission by 2015 and contribute to improvements in health system strengthening and maternal and child health. Although the child mortality rate has dropped by one-third worldwide since 1990, according to the United Nations’ Children’s and Education Fund (UNICEF), a lot still needs to be done in Africa, especially to reduce the number of children under the age of five who die of AIDS.
‘Ninety percent of children who are born with HIV/AIDS are in Africa and of those about 45% are at risk to die of HIV/AIDS’, says human rights activist, Graca Machel.
Machel says rich nations have a moral duty to fund health programmes in Africa. Western nations could help lessen Africa’s over-reliance on donor funding if they stopped supporting the corruption of some African leaders who siphon off much-needed money for development into foreign banks, she adds.
‘When some of our moneys in Africa are transferred to Western banks, Western governments turn a blind eye. I think they shouldn’t. They should help us to get that money back because we need that money precisely for our health systems, for our education systems, etc. But it’s like, you know, when they tackle the issue of corruption, (they say) ‘oh, there is corruption’, but the money of corruption is there. It’s in the West. It’s not here. It’s not in Africa. And when it comes to that, it makes the banks work and function and get profit. I don’t think you need to have this kind of double standards. Just help African people to fight corruption and the draining of our resources to send them somewhere else. It would bring back quite a significant amount of money, it looks like’, says Machel.