- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2001

NEW YORK — The fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic finally has a price tag: $9.2 billion a year, every year, possibly for a decade.
Health and economic experts yesterday made a plea to governments, corporations, foundations and individuals to step up contributions to organizations that work to prevent the spread of the disease and care for those already infected with HIV.
"We know what works. We know what to do. The biggest challenge now is to find the resources to get the job done" said Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of the joint U.N. program on HIV/AIDS, commonly called UNAIDS.
Funding for AIDS-related issues is likely to dominate the public portion of a three-day U.N. special conference on AIDS, which opens Monday.
In the 20 years since it was diagnosed, AIDS has claimed 22 million people, and another 26 million are infected with HIV, a condition that can take years to manifest itself in victims.
The social and economic implications of the disease — measured in lost wages and productivity, decimation of families and cost of treatment — are astronomical.
"HIV/AIDS is no longer just a health problem, but a global development problem, threatening to reverse many of the gains made over the last half century," said World Bank President James Wolfensohn in a statement yesterday.
"AIDS is an international security problem, and as such, it needs a war chest and a rigorous strategy for achieving results."
The United States has already pledged an initial $200 million contribution to the nascent Global AIDS Fund, which was announced by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan last year.
Today, with public and private contributions nearing $600 million, U.N. officials say they are off to a strong start.
"I would say thats a very good start for a fund that doesnt exist yet and is still in the process of being defined," Deputy U.N. Secretary-General Louise Frechette said on Tuesday. "I hope to hear more commitments during the special session."
She said she hoped that commitments would be for "new money," rather than the reallocation of existing assistance budgets.
The $9 billion is a goal not just for the Global AIDS Fund, but is a target for all AIDS-related funding, public and private, new and existing.
But observers say there is a long way to go between the promised contributions and some $9 billion annually, a figure that is roughly six times current AIDS spending, according to figures compiled by the World Bank.
"I think past experience would suggest that $9 billion to $10 billion is unachievable, at least in the short run," said one expert on international health and public-sector funding.
"I think a more realistic figure is $1.5 billion" in new money. "But how can we keep that going is hard to judge," said the expert, who declined to use his name when criticizing U.N. figures. "No one is making long-term commitments."
But others are more optimistic.
"I think its realistic to say that this is within the realm of what the international community is able to do," said Mark Schneider, senior vice president of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, which has just released its own analysis of AIDS as a threat to global security.
"The United States already spends about $500 million for AIDS internationally, and just added another $200 million," he said. "There is discussion of U.S. total for AIDS going up to $1 billion. Its not a stretch for the rest of the international community with $5 billion total by the end of this year or next."
Mr. Schneider also noted that the world forked over $200 billion on the year-2000 bug, and another $46 billion on the Kosovo conflict.
Michael Madnick, vice president for resource mobilization for Ted Turners U.N. Foundation, called the $9 billion goal "an extraordinary challenge to all sectors of the world."
He and other experts said they would expect new commitments to come out of the Group of 8 meeting later in the year.
The U.N. Foundation has given some $45 million to AIDS-related issues since it was founded three years ago, mostly in the context of womens health and population issues.
With its unavoidable focus on sex and money, the U.N. conference has already become one of the more contentious events on the U.N. calender.
References to "vulnerable groups," such as homosexuals, sex workers and drug users have dominated the closed-door negotiations over the wording of the conference declaration, say diplomats who acknowledge that the need for increased assistance is likely to be a recurring theme in public speeches, advocates press conferences and demonstrations in and around the U.N. complex.
The U.S. delegation will be led by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, whose attendance was confirmed yesterday.
The one thing more important than money, urged Dr. Piot, is "solid leadership."

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