On Wednesday President Bush made a second major speech on the crisis of HIV/AIDS announcing a major commitment to double U.S. funding for global prevention and treatment programs around the world to reach a level of $30 billion over another five years. We should applaud this increased funding and the way in which President Bush has made fighting AIDS in Africa arguably the most positive part of his legacy. Even as we celebrate, though, we must also bear in mind that even this bold step will fall short of stemming this epidemic.
The crisis of HIV/AIDS continues to outpace even our best response, with an estimated 4.3 million new infections last year. The epidemic tracks the fault lines of poverty and vulnerability. The real U.S. share of the cost of meeting the global need to fight AIDS is more in the order of $50 billion by 2013, which would include continuing to provide life-prolonging treatment to one-third of the people in clinical need.
The president made his announcement in advance of the upcoming G8 summit, which takes place in Heiligendamm, Germany, from June 4-6. The German Chancellor Merkel will preside over an agenda that includes a focus on global warming, primary school education, and the crisis of extreme poverty.
Since the 2005 G-8 summit at Gleneagles raised the bar for global leadership, this year’s summit faces a crisis of expectations. With the exception of the U.K. and Japan, other G-8 nations, including the United States, have dragged their feet in realizing many of the solemn promises made to the continent of Africa, the largest of which was to double the levels of aid by 2010. Collectively, G-8 assistance to sub-Saharan Africa has increased by only $2.3 billion since 2004, instead of the $5.4 billion promised.
Tragically, promises are much easier to make than to keep. While the U.S. has made important steps toward increasing its aid through the Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Millennium Challenge Account, and contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, the U.S. must increase its aid by nearly $1 billion in order to remain on track.
At the turn of the new millennium, the global AIDS crisis was only beginning to grab headlines and prick the conscience of our nation. I was converted to the cause of ending AIDS by the opening remarks of Judge Edwin Cameroon’s speech at the International AIDS Conference in 2000 in South Africa, when he prophetically said, “I represent the inequality of this world…because of my job and skin color I had access to drugs that brought me from the brink of death back to life…. But this disease still represents a death sentence to the majority of people living in poverty across this world.” These words highlighted in sobering terms how a preventable and treatable disease like AIDS must lend the urgency necessary to bring an end to extreme global poverty.
Through media savvy and celebrity-driven efforts like the ONE campaign, the cause of ending HIV/AIDS and extreme poverty has become more widely embraced. Seven years ago, it would have been almost impossible to imagine regular commercials featuring your favorite movie stars or a millions calling in to American Idol to raise awareness and money to fight poverty and AIDS in Africa. While we have reached a tipping point in public awareness and even public opinion, we are far from a tipping point in public action. Changing the politics of delay and incremental leadership will also require a dedicated constituency of committed leaders who are willing to put their faith to the test. Join us in taking action in advance of this year’s G-8 meeting by joining forces with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in telling G-8 nations to keep their promises to Africa!
On June 6, the leaders of the wealthiest nations will meet in Germany at the G-8 Summit. But this is not just any meeting. It’s a meeting where life and death decisions will be made, affecting the lives of millions of people.
The commitments made by the G-8 leaders in 2005 on poverty, aid to poor countries, HIV/AIDS, health systems, and education, are solemn promises, made to impoverished people. Breaking these promises is morally unacceptable. Yet, the G-8 is not on track to keep these promises:
- Less than half of all people in urgent need of AIDS treatment by 2010 will be receiving it;
- 77 million children have no access to school; and
- Africa alone faces a shortage of nearly 1.5 million health workers.
This petition calls for the G-8 nations to agree on a financing plan to reach the promise of universal access to all AIDS services by 2010, to fully support a coordinated plan to strengthen health systems, and to provide full funding for education so every child can have the chance to go to school.
Thank you for making a difference!
Adam Taylor is director of campaigns and organizing for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.