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  Asia-Pacific
Will recession impede TB care and control?
By Bobby Ramakant
Asia Correspondent
Global economic recession

Despite of 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 end of 2009. Not only that more people than ever in the past decade will be jobless, but even the governments are resorting to extreme cost-cutting measures to tide through these times of financial meltdown. Although the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM) is falling short of USD 5 billion of its estimated budget for 2009-2010, the Wall Street corporations have disbursed USD 18 billion holiday bonuses in January 2009. The newspapers say this money came from the bail-out money provided by the government (read ‘tax payers').

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?

Jeffery Sachs, Director of Columbia University's Earth Institute and a Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General, had 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 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 a news published last week, the GFATM provides a quarter of all international financing for AIDS, two-thirds for tuberculosis and three quarters for malaria.

"I would suggest the U.S. reclaim those bonuses, which are absolutely unjustified and completely unconscionable, and put the money in the Global Fund immediately," Jeffery Sachs said.

The USD 5 billion shortfall 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 the promises to fund the GFATM thereby – directly or indirectly - adversely impacting and reversing the tremendous gains made over years in strengthening responses to AIDS, TB and Malaria, and other communicable and non-communicable diseases too.

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).

On when hand when US doles out USD 18 billion to bail out corporations (so that these corporations can disburse holiday bonuses), the country hasn't kept its promises to GFATM. 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" had said Jeffery Sachs.

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.



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Bobby Ramakant, who serves as The Seoul Times' Asia correspondent, is a member of NATT, Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals, and edits Weekly MONiTOR series, reporting violations of tobacco control policies as a senior public health and development journalist. He writes for newspapers in 11 countries. He is the recepient of World Health Organization (WHO)'s Award for the year 2008. He can be reached at bobbyramakant@yahoo.com)

 

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