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Nineteen governments are committed to levying a tax on airline tickets as part of a new way to treat people in poor countries for AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, France's foreign minister said Monday.
"We need to be and can be even more," said Philippe Douste-Blazy, who heads the program called UNITAID, which brings together national governments, U.N. agencies, international organizations, and others to tackle some of the world's worst diseases.
France started imposing the tax in July, but 18 others have signaled they will join in, he said. They include Brazil, the United Kingdom, Chile, Cambodia, Cameroon, Congo, Cyprus, Gabon, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Norway, and South Korea, officials said.
UNITAID plans initially to spend $63 million this year and about $378 million next year to give 100,000 children access to antiretroviral treatment and 150,000 children treatment against tuberculosis, Douste-Blazy said.
France is charging $1.26 tax per ticket for domestic and European flights and $5 for international flights. For business-class travelers, the tax is 10 times higher, Douste-Blazy said. The French receipts of $88 million for this year and an estimated $250 million for 2007 will be transferred to UNITAID, which is based at the World Health Organization.
Airlines, including France's national carrier, Air France, have claimed that the tax will hurt business and tourism.
But Douste-Blazy said he did "not believe for a single moment that fewer tickets would be sold because you pay [one euro] more."
Levying taxes on air transport is a way to redistribute the benefits of globalization and to secure long-term funding, Douste-Blazy said. He said the new multicountry system was "revolutionary" and an example of "world citizens" supporting each other.
But much more money is needed, Douste-Blazy said: "We know there's a global lack of $50 billion per year to fight against poverty and diseases."
Acting WHO director-general Anders Nordstrom said governments have given more money to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria in recent years but that the new initiative and other fund-raising methods were needed as well.
"If you take tuberculosis, the estimated need is $3 billion," he said. "The majority of these resources needs to come from countries themselves."
The long-term strategy of UNITAID is that predictable funding will create a demand for medicines against these diseases and thus spur the pharmaceutical industry to increase production capacities and lower the prices.
But, Douste-Blazy added, "it seems to me completely normal that the pharmaceutical industry should participate in the process not to make money but to ensure that every person on the planet can be treated regardless [of whether they are] rich or poor." (Eliane Engeler, AP)