Econ-Atrocity: Aid and AIDS

By Kiaran Honderich, CPE Staff Economist

(Reprinted from CPE’s newsletter, “The Popular Economist,” Spring, 2002.)

Over the last year activists have made important progress in the battle against global AIDS. Developing countries won a partial victory at the WTO ministerial meeting in Doha in November, affirming their right to produce affordable generic drugs in a health crisis. And the appalling mainstream consensus that treatment with antiretroviral drugs was too expensive and complex to be made available in poor countries–writing off literally tens of millions of lives at a stroke–is finally giving way to acknowledgement that treatment is possible in resource-poor settings, although it seems likely to be rolled out in a way that neglects rural populations. These battles are by no means finished–the WTO is still hashing out whether poor countries too small to produce their own generic drugs should be permitted to import them from another country; if Bush gains fast track authority then he will be able to take back the gains of Doha; and South Africa’s ANC government is being dragged kicking and screaming by activists towards the treatment programs that its country needs–but real progress is being made.

But at this point almost no treatment programs have actually been created in Africa. Discussion on lists and websites there is increasingly moving to issues like what to do when the entire leadership of a community-based organization dies within a short period of time; and how to deal with death, whether your own or of those you love, in the: best’ way. Graveyards are full beyond capacity; supplies of coffins have run out; communities are being torn limb from limb. Part of the problem lies with African governments, and part with the difficulties in building health infrastructure that has been badly damaged by economic misdevelopment and IMF-imposed structural adjustment programs. But much of the problem, and the piece that the US government bears great responsibility for, is the extraordinary tacit decision by the rich countries not to give anything like enough money to the Global Fund for it to turn this situation around.

The Global Fund against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was set up by Kofi Annan last year. It needs an estimated $9—10 billion a year to fund prevention, treatment and care of AIDS on the scale needed, of which the US has been asked to provide an easily affordable $2.5 billion. The Bush administration responded by giving $200 million last year, and proposes to give the same amount this year. Other rich countries have followed suit, leaving the Global Fund incapable of doing its job. In one sense this should not be a surprise: in 1969 the rich countries agreed to aim at giving 0.7% of GDP in aid to poor countries. Only Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, and Luxembourg have met that target. The US now gives 0.1%, and has become the meanest donor in the world as a proportion of its GDP.

Meanwhile at home in the US the number of people living with AIDS has risen to an alltime high, estimated by the CDC at 1 million; AIDS in prisons is reaching terrifying levels; and Massachusetts’ FY2002 state spending on AIDS has just been cut by a dramatic $9.7 million. This is a 19% reduction over FY2001 spending, and will result in further cuts as federal matching funds are lost. It means entire programs are being ended, including many prevention programs aimed at groups including Haitians, Latinos and IDUs. These issues are not unconnected! The fact that Massachusetts funding is being cut while AIDS has become increasingly concentrated among poor people and people of color, is quite consistent with the US’s murderous policies in Africa. To learn more about the situation, and about what to demand from the US government, visit Health GAP’s website.


For more information about how the AIDS pandemic is spreading, see the UNAIDS website.

HealthGAP is a coalition of US activists; their website is an excellent place to learn more about drug pricing issues as well as inadequate funding of the Global Fund, and they have a list serve on those issues.

Figures on aid from the rich countries are from the powerful closing speech by Stephen Lewis, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, at the 12th Annual Conference of the International Conference on AIDS and STDs in Africa; Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, December 13 2001. The text is available at:

MA spending cuts information is from the MA Dept. of Public Health, HIV/AIDS Bureau.

Kiaran Honderich is a staff economist with CPE and an AIDS activist based in Cambridge. She just founded ULALO, dedicated to building bridges between the US and rural African women with AIDS. For more information check out from March 25th.

Econ-Atrocities are a periodic publication of the Center for Popular Economics. They are the work of their authors and reflect their author’s opinions and analyses. CPE does not necessarily endorse any particular idea expressed in these articles.