March 11, 2009 2:00 am

UN turns to travel websites to help fight disease

Worldwide air travellers booking online may soon be asked to tick a box to make a $2-per-flight donation towards fighting disease in the developing world in a UN-backed initiative that aims to raise more than $1bn (€784m £722m) a year, writes Harvey Morris .

With government overseas aid budgets under pressure because of the global financial crisis, the United Nations is turning to private industry and individuals to finance the battle against Aids, tuberculosis and malaria, which collectively kill 6m people a year.

Philippe Douste-Blazy, former French foreign minister and head of Unitaid, the agency behind the online donation plan that is due to be launched at the UN General Assembly this autumn, says he has contacted chief executives of the top companies in the online travel industry and had a positive response.

Travelport and Amadeus, market leaders in providing online technology to the travel industry, both confirmed they were in talks with Unitaid. A UK spokesman for Travelport said the company had its most recent talks with the UN agency last week and was working on prototypes to allow online donations.

Madrid-based Amadeus said it was working closely with Unitaid and other providers on systems for micro-contributions that could later be adopted by other industries.

Unitaid, set up at the UN in 2006 by Brazil, Chile, the UK, Norway and France, funds purchases of drugs to fight pandemic diseases in the developing world from a tax on air tickets raised by a dozen participating countries. The tax has raised $600m in the past two years. One flight with 300 passengers can raise enough to treat 60 HIV-positive children for a year.

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