The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) expressed alarm over dwindling commitment to fund HIV/AIDS treatment in poor countries. Speaking at a press conference in Cape Town, on the eve of a high-level meeting in London on Tuesday that could determine whether the G20 takes up the issue of the global HIV response, the groups warned that scaling back HIV funding would prove catastrophic for individuals and communities.
HIV has yet to be feature on the G8 and G20 summits this year which is in stark contrast to the support expressed in 2005 when the G8, led by the UK, promised to make universal access (UA) to life-saving HIV treatment a reality for all who needed it by 2010. Five years on, the high-level meeting that will be convened tomorrow by the UK government is an effort to take stock of progress. Eight governments from sub-Saharan African countries are represented.
“Although the world is less than halfway to achieving UA goals, funders appear to have thrown in the towel and begun to shift their attention elsewhere,” said Paula Akugizibwe of ARASA.
Many African countries facing crushing epidemics depend on external funding to sustain HIV treatment programs. Leading funders such as the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) have consistently flat-funded over the past few years and scaled back financial commitment for treatment slots in some countries. Similarly, shifting donor priorities have rendered uncertain the future support from the multilateral Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, which has thus far paid for two thirds of the people who are currently receiving HIV/AIDS treatment.
“Four million lives have been saved millions of new infections averted because of access to treatment. Why slow down now?” asked Andile Madondile of the TAC. “We must not undo this progress. It will be very hard to encourage people to know their status when access to treatment, if they need it, cannot be guaranteed. Pulling back from treatment is throwing fuel on the flames of the epidemic that were just beginning to die down.”
“Funding of HIV programmes in the past decade has allowed to build the foundations to eventually end the double standard of care between rich and poor,” said Gilles Van Cutsem, the medical coordinator for MSF’s HIV/TB project in Khayelitsha in the Western Cape of South Africa. “The capacity to reach universal access is greater than ever before; more ambitious treatment guidelines, as recently in South Africa, are a reflection of this. However, to realize this massive – but achievable – scale up, increased funding is needed. Anything less will lead to poor quality programmes and a waste of the initial investment.”
Nokhwezi Hoboyi from TAC appealed for stronger political leadership in the response to HIV. “We are at a critical juncture,” she said. “South Africa has witnessed significant progress in political will at the national level, which is even more reason why at the global level, we need to see reinvigorated commitment to HIV prevention and treatment – we need higher levels of investment in health as well as more transparency and accountability. But this cannot happen without stronger leadership. We call on the UK and South Africa to champion universal access and full funding of the Global Fund, starting at tomorrow’s meeting.”
According to the Global Fund $20 billion over the next three years is needed in order to sustain existing HIV, TB, and malaria efforts and allow for scale-up up quality tested programs.