Stephen Lewis: Have we reached the point where the terror of AIDS is no match for the war against terror?

Excerpt from a speech by Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy, HIV/AIDS in
Africa, to the 19th annual Health and Philanthropy symposium, Center on
Philanthropy, Indiana University, Indianapolis, August 24, 2006

(Reprinted with permission of his office)

The non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS), based in Washington, tends to fly under the radar of public notoriety. But figures released this week lead to a startling comparison. The CRS estimates that the monthly United States expenditure in 2006 for the war in Iraq could hit $8 billion.

This means that the expenditure this month and every month this year on Iraq is equal to the entire annual expenditure, in 2005, from all sources, everywhere in the world, on AIDS (estimated at $8.3 billion).

Something is terribly wrong. And the monthly amount of $8 billion doesn’t even include the additional costs of the British deployment in Iraq.

However much some people may disagree with American and British foreign policy, it is obviously the right of a sovereign state to decide what it wants to spend on war. But what has happened to the moral anchor of the world that so much can be devoted to conflict and so relatively little to a plague that has forty million people in its lethal grip?

That’s no rhetorical question. It is estimated that we will need $30 billion a year by 2010 to fight AIDS. Where will the money come from? The G8 countries have already begun to default on the agreements on aid and trade, made at the G8 Summit last year, but there’s no default on the financing of war.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is half a billion short this year, and already over a billion short next year. How is that possible when such strong commitments to fund the Fund were made by the G8? Have we reached the point where the terror of AIDS is no match for the war against terror?

In 2003, the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief(PEPFAR) allocated $3 billion a year for five years, a generous allocation at the time. But when it is renewed in 2008, will it increase the annual amount? When the plan was first initiated, $3 billion annually was more than fifty per cent of the estimated requirements. This year it represents 20 percent of what is needed. But in 2008, if the US pledge is reinstated at current levels, that $3 billion annual expenditure will shrink to 14 percent of the requirements. Where will we find the rest of the money?

At the International AIDS Conference last week, we learned that the world needs 4 million new health workers of every discipline, 2.4 million doctors, nurses and midwives alone. Think of Africa, labouring at such debilitating disadvantage: 11% of the world’s population; 24% of the world’s burden of disease; 3% of the world’s health workers and 1% of the world’s expenditure on health. It is estimated, Africa included, that we will need between $7.2 billion and $14 billion over the next five years just to restore human capacity in the health sector. Where will the money come

I raise these questions not to be perverse. I raise these questions because it seems to me to be indefensible to forever find money to prosecute wars, but never to find sufficient money to treat the human condition.

When dealing with AIDS, the G8 countries promised universal access to treatment, prevention and care by 2010. At the moment, the promise is hollow. It is clear that swords come before ploughshares and bombs come before health.

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