Pukaar: Issue 76

Published: January 11, 2012

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has been the international financial armada in the battle against the three diseases. The collapse of the next round of Global Fund grants, known as Round 11, is the most serious, catastrophic setback in the Fund’s decade of existence. Hiding behind the banner of the financial crisis, the donor countries have clearly decided that if budgetary cuts are to be made, the Global Fund can be among the first to go.

It’s terribly important to recognize the moral implications. It’s not just the fact that people will die; it’s the fact that those who have made the decision know that people will die. How does that get rationalized? How does that get dealt with in the inner sanctums of development ministries and cabinet discussions? What in God’s name do they say to each other?

They know, equally, that in the distribution of pain and suffering from AIDS, Africa is the epicenter. It has 68% of those living with the virus worldwide; it has 70% of new infections. They know that Africa is the one part of the world that cannot possibly reach the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. They know that many countries on the continent are reeling from poverty, conflict and disease.
What possesses the donor community to intensify the emotional and physical havoc?

Do they regard Africa as a territorial piece of geographic obsolescence? Do they regard Africans themselves as casually expendable? Is it because the women and children of Africa are not comparable in the eyes of western governments to the women and children of Europe and North America? Is it because Africans are black and unacknowledged racism is at play? Is it because a fighter jet is worth so much more than human lives? Is it because defense budgets are more worthy of protection in an economic downturn than millions of human beings?
I will never understand.

What happened at the Global Fund last week is of course merely the latest episode in the unvarying history of betrayal. Do you remember the G8 Summit in Gleneagles in 2005? The most solemn commitment was made to provide an additional $50 billion in aid to the developing world by 2010, $25 billion of which was destined for Africa. Come the Summit in 2010 (in Canada you will recall), the G8 was between $10 billion and $15 billion short of the target.

Prime Minister Tony Blair’s words on the $50 billion pledge at the 2005 Summit are memorable: “This is what we declare. We are going to be held to this; we are bound by it; we are committed to it; judge us by it.”
What a craven politician.

But of course, he’s not alone. Let me remind you that in June of this year, there was a High-Level Meeting on AIDS at the United Nations. It was the tenth anniversary of the UN Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, and the fifth anniversary of the UN Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS.
The commitments, the promises, the undertakings, the passionate affirmations of reaching the targets suffuse the newest document to emerge, titled “Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS: Intensifying our Efforts to Eliminate HIV/AIDS.”

Please forgive my cosmic cynicism, but these international expressions of intent, repeated ad nauseam on every obligatory anniversary, are the ultimate frauds of multilateralism. Why in the world numbers of well-meaning NGOs support this kind of intellectual drivel is beyond me. We didn’t need the inheritance of Tony Blair to know that the sanctimonious pledges would be rendered unto tatters as soon as the delegations left the confines of the UN. And it is surely worth noting that June of this year falls well beyond the financial downturn of 2008/2009: the pledges were made with full knowledge of fiscal austerity.

Listen to the language: “(We) recognize that HIV and AIDS constitute a global emergency, pose one of the most formidable challenges to the development, progress and stability of our respective societies and the world at large and require an exceptional and comprehensive global response … (We) note with deep concern that … the HIV epidemic remains an unprecedented human catastrophe inflicting immense suffering on countries, communities and families throughout the world … (We) recognize that Africa, in particular sub-Saharan Africa, remains the worst affected region and that urgent and exceptional action is required at all levels to curb the devastating effects of this epidemic … (We) express deep concern that funding devoted to the HIV and AIDS responses is still not commensurate with the magnitude of the epidemic … (We) note with concern that while the pledges (made in 2010) represented an increase in financing, they fall short of the amounts targeted by the Global Fund, and realize that to reach that goal it is imperative that the work of the Global Fund be supported and that it be adequately funded—let me repeat—that the work of the Global Fund be supported and that it be adequately funded … (We) commit to accelerate efforts to achieve the goal of universal access to antiretroviral treatment … with the target of working towards having 15 million people living with HIV on antiretroviral treatment by 2015 … (We) commit to supporting and strengthening the Global Fund … through the provision of funds in a sustained and predictable manner … (We) appreciate that the Global Fund is a pivotal mechanism for achieving universal access … (and) encourage Member States … to provide the highest level of support for the Global Fund—let me repeat—to provide the highest level of support for the Global Fund.”

There you have it. And there’s so much more of equally devoted fealty, inscribed with an almost religious fervor. So what do these honorable member states then do? They leave the meeting and gut the Fund.

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