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Will recession impede TB care and control?

By       Message Bobby Ramakant     Permalink
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Despite the Indian government’s assurance that India will not be affected by the global economic recession, about 2.5 million people are estimated to lose their jobs in India by the end of 2009. Not only that, but more people than ever in the past decade will be jobless. Governments are resorting to extreme cost-cutting measures to tide their economies through these times of financial meltdown. While the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM) is falling short of its estimated USD 5 billion budget for 2009-2010, Wall Street corporations disbursed USD 18 billion holiday bonuses in January, 2009. Newspapers say this money came from bail-out money provided by the government (read ‘tax payer’s funds’).

Where do tax payers want to invest their money – in holiday bonuses or to save lives from AIDS, TB and Malaria in the most hard-hit countries globally?

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Jeffery Sachs, Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and a Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General, called on the US government to take back the USD 18 billion in bonuses that Wall Street bankers paid themselves while receiving taxpayer bailout money, and to use the money instead on HIV drugs and mosquito nets, calling the bonuses "unbelievably egregious."  He said: "Those bonuses are being paid out of our bailout funds... I suggest the U.S. government reclaim that funding and put the money into the Global Fund immediately."

According to The Seattle Times, published last week, the GFATM provides a quarter of all international financing for AIDS, two-thirds for tuberculosis and three quarters for malaria.

The USD 5 billion U.S. contribution shortfall to the Global Fund is less than one-half of one percent of what G8 countries have approved to bail out failing banks in the last three months, Sachs said.

The US is certainly one of the donor countries that haven’t kept promises to fund the GFATM thereby – directly or indirectly - adversely impacting and reversing the tremendous gains made over the years in strengthening responses to AIDS, TB and Malaria, and many other communicable and non-communicable diseases.

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The GFATM will need USD 8 billion to support AIDS, TB and Malaria initiatives in 2009 – 2010, however it has only USD 3 billion in its kitty. The donor countries had pledged to support the GFATM by committing about 0.7% of 1% of Gross National Product (GNP).

When the US doles out USD 18 billion to bail out corporations (so that these corporations can disburse holiday bonuses), it is reneging on its promises to GFATM. It should be noted that the US is the smallest donor among the rich nations that contribute to GFATM. "We're at 0.16 of 1% of our income for development assistance. It's the lowest level of all 22 donor countries" Jeffery Sachs said.

The Merrill Lynch bonuses alone would be enough to close the gap in US contributions to GFATM.

In the lead up to the forthcoming 3rd Partners Forum in Brazil next month, let us think how we can economize to utilize every penny we have for TB care and control – while we find ways to mobilize more resources to fill the gap.

(The author can be contacted at: bobbyramakant@yahoo.com)

[Citizen News Service – CNS]

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Bobby Ramakant is a development journalist and has been writing on development issues since 1991. Health is one of the key focus areas he writes on. He is also a World Health Organization (WHO)'s WNTD awardee for 2008

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