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AIDS campaigners
say G8's $60 billion pledge falls short

AIDS campaigners
say G8's $60 billion pledge falls short

The $60 billion pledge by the world's leading industrial nations to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases in Africa has fallen disappointingly short of expectations and is a major setback for the fight against the epidemic ravaging the continent, activists and campaigners said Friday.

Members of the G8 met with African leaders on their summit's concluding day in Germany Friday, agreeing on a program that will see half the funds come from earlier pledges by the United States, with other nations contributing the rest in an attempt to reaffirm its commitment to lift Africa out of poverty.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, which will receive $6 billion to $8 billion of the new funds, welcomed the announcement.

''This is a strong G8 agreement that makes it possible to defeat the pandemics of AIDS, TB, and malaria,'' said Dr. Michel Kazatchkine, the fund's executive director said in a stadium. ''The endorsement by the G8 leaders, a threefold increase from the current level as part of their recommitment to universal access to treatment, is very good news.''

But others said the declaration fell short of the promises made two years ago at the G8 Gleneagles Summit in Perthshire, Scotland.

''AIDS advocates are dismayed by its vague language and lack of planning to meet ambitious goals, despite its promise to add $30 billion to U.S. commitments,'' said Kate Krauss, spokeswoman for the U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights.

Krauss said despite commitments made by the G8 at the 2005 meeting, there has been little progress toward the goal of achieving universal access to comprehensive HIV/AIDS prevention programs, treatment and care, and support by 2010, or toward developing and strengthening African health systems.

''The G8 communique is turning into a wish list and not a document that is going to save lives,'' Krauss said.

''There needs to be a plan for meeting the previous commits made at Gleneagles,'' she said. ''If there is no specific plan for meeting the goals that they are setting out, they don't happen.''

In addition, she said the G8 leaders had failed to address the critical issue of a dire lack of health care workers in Africa, saying more than 1 million were needed to adequately provide for people there.

''There needs to be a budget, a financial plan and there is nothing but empty promises,'' Krauss said.

UNAIDS estimates put the number of people needing AIDS treatment by 2013 at 12 million, which leaves more than 8 million people who will die without treatment unless the U.S. or other G8 countries fill the gap.

''Even this $60 billion smoke screen can't cover up for the abject failure of the G8 to move forward on their AIDS promises. This is devastating news for the 40 million people living with HIV and AIDS,'' said Aditi Sharma, who heads the HIV/AIDS campaign for ActionAid International. ''Twenty-four thousand people have died over the last three days while G8 leaders have been wrangling over text on how many lives to save.''

Greg Gonsalves, AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa, said the announcement was a ''betrayal'' of the commitment made at Gleneagles.

''It is clear that the rich countries are scaling back their commitment to people living with HIV. It gives a signal to African governments that treatment is half as important as it was yesterday. It is devastating for what it portends for future financial commitment to universal access to treatment,'' he said.

In the West African nation of Mali, a conference of civil society groups organized as a countersummit to the G8 focused on other issues. They say the G8 needs to ''proceed immediately with the immediate and total cancellation of Africa's bilateral and multilateral debt.''

In a final communique, the meeting also called for a ''more just and equitable global market'' and for the respect of ''freedom of circulation for people between borders,'' a reference to the difficulty many Africans have in obtaining work or travel visas abroad.

About 600 people attended the Forum of the Poor conference, which ended Thursday night in Mali's southern city of Sikasso. Most were educators, academics, or representatives from women and youth groups from Francophone African countries. The meeting, part of a global network of Social Forums designed to provide a venue for ordinary citizens to speak on economic policy, has taken place alongside every G-8 summit since 2002.

The group also demanded that the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank be replaced by a ''Bank of the South'' that would give all countries a say in how development is pursued in poor countries and design economic policies that could apply across states. In addition, the conference called for the end of agricultural subsidies by rich nations that undercut their ability to export. (AP)

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Matthew Van Atta