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Australia's contribution to global health fund provokes dismay

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 26 February 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:486
  1. Bob Burton
  1. Canberra

    The Australian government has announced it will contribute only $A25m (£10.4m; $19.4m; €15.4m) over the next three years to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

    While welcoming the government's participation, Malcolm Reid, spokesman for Oxfam Community Aid Abroad, the Australian arm of Oxfam, was dismayed by the small grant. “We calculated that based on the size of its economy… Australia should be contributing about $A40m this year alone,” he said.

    The director of Médecins Sans Frontières Australia's campaign to improve access to essential medicines, Kathryn Dinh, was also disappointed: “We are hoping that they are going to increase their contribution in the future.”

    An estimated 7.4 million people in the Asia Pacific region, an area stretching from Bangladesh through to Japan and China, and including the Pacific Islands, are infected with HIV or have AIDS, and the region has about three million cases of malaria. Of the 3.7 million cases of tuberculosis reported worldwide in 2002 about 60% were in the region.

    The fund's target to be raised in 2004 from Japan, Canada, Australia, and oil rich countries such as Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates is $500m—a third of the total budget. The fund's executive director, Dr Richard Feachem, met Alexander Downer, Australia's minister for foreign affairs, to press its case. “We've already committed $400m over the next two years to work in this region, and that includes substantial investments in the Pacific Islands, in Papua New Guinea, in East Timor, and in Indonesia,” Dr Feachem said.

    Mr Downer acknowledges the problem in the region but points to Australia's current six year, $A200m bilateral programme to counter AIDS.

    The global fund was established in 2002 as an independent foundation. While developed countries such as France immediately made major funding commitments, Australia withheld support. “We didn't join the global fund originally because we had bilateral programmes in all of those [disease] areas at the moment,” Mr Downer said.

    Dr Feachem pointed to the symbolic importance of the Australian government's contribution. “It's not just the numbers of dollars,” he said. “It's the voice that Australia carries in international forums.”

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