France cuts AIDS budget

France has cut its contribution to UNITAID, an organisation that provides medication for AIDS. [Sham Hardy/Flickr]

Budgetary austerity and commitments to fight the Ebola epidemic have forced France to cut its contributions to UNITAID, the international organisation that provides access to AIDS treatments in poor countries. EURACTIV France reports

UNITAID has become the latest aid organisation to suffer as a consequence of national budget cuts. France, which had been the largest contributor to the organisation which provides treatments for AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in poor countries, has announced plans to reduce its annual contribution from 100 million euros to 85 million in 2015.

A group of NGOs (ONE, Sidaction, Coalition PLUS, Oxfam Solidarité Sida and Solthis) have published a press release, saying “in a letter dated 8 December 2014, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs officially reduced France’s annual contribution to UNITAID by 25%”.

First backward step for France

“This is the first time since the appearance of the AIDS virus that a French government has decided to reduce its contribution to the global efforts,” the NGOs wrote, highlighting the fact that the cut represents “the price of treating 200,000 HIV-positive children”.

In an editorial, published by Libération on 9 December, the leaders of several organisations, including Pierre Bergé from Sidaction, severely criticised François Hollande’s decision. The editorial’s authors wrote “you promised that France would never abandon the global fight against AIDS,” and called UNITAID “one of the great [French] success stories in the fight against AIDS”.

>> Read: Beating AIDS worldwide, NGOs still alarmed

Since its creation in 2006, UNITAID has treated 355 million people for malaria and 8.5 million for tuberculosis. Another of the organisation’s major achievements has been to bring down the price of aids treatment “by 80% for children and by 60% for adults,” according to Philippe Douste-Blazy, President of UNITAID. In its latest report, the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS revealed that the number of deaths from the virus had fallen to 1.5 million in 2013.

>> Read: Philippe Douste-Blazy: “innovative financial is the biggest issue in international politics” (in French)

Around half of the UNITAID budget comes from the special tax on aeroplane tickets, with the other half coming from various national governments.

The creation of the tax was an initiative of former French President Jacques Chirac, and is currently applied in 9 countries: Cameroon, Chili, the Congo, France, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Niger and the Korean Republic.

Ebola outbreak to blame

The French government’s decision to reduce its UNITAID contributions has been in large part motivated by the need to divert public aid money to help fight the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

“The funds France has released for the fight against Ebola are significant – €85 million for 2014 and 2015 – and unplanned,” a French source told EURACTIV.

Another reason cited for the reduction of France’s UNITAID funding is that the country has provided between 50 and 60% of the organisation’s total budget since 2006. “This is a disproportionate contribution for an international fund,” the source said.

>> Read: Beating AIDS worldwide, NGOs still alarmed

The AIDS virus, tuberculosis and malaria are all easy avoidable infectious diseases, but together they account for millions of deaths every year. The Global Fund, established in 2002, says its efforts to reduce the number of deaths and reduce the spread of these diseases are bringing results.

From 2005 to 2011, the number of deaths from AIDS fell by 24%. Deaths from malaria fell by 26% between 2000 and 2011, and the tuberculosis death toll plummeted by 41% from 1991 to 2011. 

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