G8 backtrack on landmark Aids deal

The Group of Eight wealthy countries appear on the verge of backtracking on their landmark agreement two years ago to fund universal access to treatment for Aids sufferers, the Financial Times has learnt.

Summit documents obtained by the FT show that the G8 is now aiming to help “over the next few years...approximately five million people” with Aids – a dramatic cut from the goal of reaching 10m victims by 2010 made at the Gleneagles G8 summit in 2005.

The reduced target comes despite several G8 leaders, including US president George W. Bush and German chancellor Angela Merkel, this week highlighting Aids funding as a key summit priority.

The summit draft communiqué, dated June 1, still says the G8 plans to “scale up towards ‘universal access’” but then cites the 5m figure for people who will be supported with “life-saving anti-retroviral treatment”.

A senior official familiar with the summit plans on Aids said the lower target would be a “huge backward step given the commitments made at Gleneagles”. The British government is lobbying for the summit passage to be revised, G8 diplomats said.

Francoise Ndayishimiye from Burundi, a board member from the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which receives most of its funds from G8 governments, said it would be a “disaster” if the G8 backs away from its universal access pledge.

The Fund, set up at the initiative of the G8 in 2000, said it needed to increase spending to $6bn-8bn a year, from $2bn at present, to achieve the target of universal access to treatment by 2010.

“It is unclear whether we will meet these goals” if the G8 reduces its own target, Seth Amgott, a Global Fund spokesman said.

Mr Bush last week pledged $15bn of fresh cash for anti-Aids initiatives over the next five years – subject to approval from Congress – doubling the existing US commitment.

Speaking following a meeting with Ms Merkel on Wednesday, President Bush highlighted fighting Aids as one of his top priorities at this week’s summit.

“I come with a deep desire to make sure that those suffering from HIV/AIDS on the continent of Africa know that they’ll get help from the G8,” he said.

Ms Merkel is also soon expected to announce a new Aids pledge worth €1bn ($1.35bn), according to German media. The European Commission, also represented at the G8 summit, pledged last week €100m for the Global Fund for 2007, and proposed a further €300m over the following three years.

Nicolas Sarkozy, French president, said this week that he would make the G8 target of universal access a priority at the summit, according to campaign groups that held talks with him.

The lowered goal in the G8 draft communiqué was inserted at the insistence of the US delegation, according to several officials close to G8 delegations.

Aids experts and campaigners said it reflected divisions between the US and European countries on the targeting of Aids funding, and realisation on the part of G8 governments that providing universal access was in the short term beyond their budgets.

Coverage of about 10m people would cost around $23bn, according to the United Nations Aids agency.

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