AIDS funding squeeze puts lives at risk

Backtracking by international donors in funding for HIV/AIDS may undermine years of progress and is already putting lives at risk, the health aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Thursday.

In a report on AIDS in eight sub-Saharan African countries, it said major donors have decided to cap, cut or halt spending on HIV treatment and AIDS drugs in the past year and a half.

Major donors include the United States, the World Bank, the health funding agency UNITAID, and backers of the Global Fund.

“How can we give up the fight halfway and pretend that the crisis is over?” said Mit Philips, a health policy analyst for MSF and one of the authors of the report.

“There is a real risk that many ... will die within the next few years if necessary steps are not taken now.”

An estimated 33 million people around the world are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS, and more than half of the 9.5 million people who need AIDS drugs cannot get them, according to the United Nations.

The MSF report said that the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief, known as PEPFAR, cut its budget for buying AIDS drugs in 2009 and 2010 and froze its overall HIV/AIDS budget.

Other donors like UNITAID and the World Bank have also announced reductions in coming years in funding for AIDS drugs in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), it said.

The Global Fund, the largest funding body in the fight against HIV/AIDS, is also facing shortfalls. The United States, the Netherlands and Ireland have said they will be cutting their contributions.

Such cuts are already having an impact in places like South Africa, Uganda, and in DRC - where the number of new patients able to start treatment with antiretroviral (ARV) AIDS drugs has been cut six-fold, according to the MSF report.

As a result, already fragile health systems would come under more pressure from a growing number of patients requiring more intensive care as their disease progresses.

“ARV treatment is lifesaving but also lifelong,” the report said. “This means that the number of patients under treatment increases cumulatively each year, thus requiring incrementally growing and sustainable funding.”

LONDON (Reuters)

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