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AIDS activists slam Obama

TAC supporters in Cape Town, 13 June 2008.
(Lee Middleton/IRIN)

AIDS activists are to march on the US Consulate in Johannesburg on 17 June to protest against the deaths they say will result from President Barack Obama's "anti-treatment policies".

The US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has been a major source of funds for AIDS treatment programmes in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent, but began flat-lining its contributions from 2009 and shifting responsibility for the delivery of anti-retroviral treatment (ART) to individual countries.

Addressing journalists at a press briefing on the march, activists from the local lobby group, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), international medical charity, Médecins Sans Frontières, and the World AIDS Campaign acknowledged the need for African countries to step up their spending on health and become less donor-dependant, but argued that PEPFAR and other donors had a "moral obligation" to implement commitments they made to help achieve the goal of universal access to AIDS treatment.

"The lack of adequate resources for ART is a threat to millions of lives on the African continent," said Linda Mafu of the World AIDS Campaign, who added that "bouncing cheques" from donors not only meant lives lost due to a lack of treatment but a probable increase in new infections.

Studies have shown that patients taking ARV treatment have lowered levels of HIV in their blood and are less likely to transmit the virus to others.

At present, five million people are accessing ARV treatment globally, about 42 percent of the estimated numbers in need, but the activists said they were starting to see the results of funding cuts in the form of drug stock-outs, treatment interruptions and patients being turned away from treatment programmes.

Nonkosi Khumalo of the TAC reported that at one PEPFAR-funded treatment site in South Africa's Free State province, patients had been told they would have to get treatment elsewhere from 21 June.

While South Africa has the resources to fund the lion's share of its massive ARV treatment programme, other countries rely almost entirely on PEPFAR and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to finance their AIDS programmes.

The Global Fund has indicated it is facing a shortfall of between US$17 and $20 billion for its next funding round.

"We're not asking these rich countries for charity," said Vuyiseka Dubula, the TAC's general secretary. "All we're asking is for them to honour commitments they made."

The protesters, expected to number in the thousands, will deliver a memorandum calling on Obama to reverse funding cuts for HIV and for the US and Europe to increase contributions to the Global Fund.

See also: AFRICA: Lost funding means lost lives


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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