African AIDS activists slam US funding shortfall

Health ActivistsHealth activists said Tuesday that a shortfall in promised U.S. funding for HIV/AIDS projects would affect over 30 million people and means President Barack Obama risks reversing the gains made by his predecessor.

“Such projects are like planes … they must have a forward momentum or they will stall and crash,” said Dr. Paul Zeitz, the executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance.

He singled out a reduced rate of funding for President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a pet project of President George W. Bush that is credited with saving millions of lives.

On the campaign trail, Obama promised to expand by PEPFAR by a billion dollars a year. But Zeitz said the budget Obama’s administration submitted this month does not contain any significant increase, maintaining funding levels at a steady US$6 billion a year.

He said this and lower-than-promised commitments to other anti-HIV/AIDS projects mean one million people will not get lifesaving drugs. In total, he said, there was a US$3.3 billion shortfall in U.S support for global AIDS funding and bilateral AIDS programs.

The White House had no immediate comment.

But Zeitz questioned whether funding other health initiatives had to come at the cost of HIV/AIDS programs, pointing out spending on military projects and in other places continue to rise.

“It is not a question about whether we have the money … it is a question about priorities,” he told journalists at a hotel in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

Rolake Odetoyimbo, from the Pan African Treatment Movement in Nigeria, said Obama’s failure to live up to his commitment meant other countries were likely to spend less on the fight against AIDS.

“We are concerned that he is setting a bad example,” she said.

At the end of 2007, 33 million people were living with HIV, according to the World Health Organization. Two-thirds of HIV infections are in sub-Saharan Africa.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.