Updated 25 June 2014

'Lords of the Bling'

The world is in a recession but HIV is not, Watch this video to see what African leaders are squandering the public's money on.

The world is in a recession but HIV is not in recession. This was the overarching theme of most of the presentations at the 5th IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention in Cape Town last week.

In a show of unity, around 90 advocacy groups supporting all the health Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) joined together to release a statement charging the leaders of G-8 countries with reneging on their commitments to health by chronically underfunding programs for AIDS, TB, maternal and child health, sexual and reproductive health, and health systems strengthening across the globe.

The AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), a Namibia-based partnership of health and human rights groups from around the Southern African region, also launched a video on YouTube entitled “Lords of The Bling”, and a related petition on funding for health at the IAS.

Watch 'Lords of the Bling' YouTube video here

The video highlights the cost of lavish expenditure and corruption among various African leaders and calculates how many people could, for equivalent sums of money, have received life-saving treatment for HIV and TB – which jointly claim almost 2 million African lives every year.

Cost of war in Iraq = US$ 686 880 390 658
= more than 140 times the money needed to close the Global Fund’s funding gap for HIV and TB

Cost of Robert Mugabe’s 85th birthday party= $US 250 000
= cost of 10 501 treatment courses for tuberculosis

Cost of Yoweri Museveni’s private jet= US$ 48 000 000
=cost of one year’s HIV treatment for 229 524 people

Cost of US government’s economic bailout= US$ 700 000 000 000
=more than 100 times the 2009 budget for the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief

Don’t pit one disease against another
The coalition of advocates from health organisations around the world, including South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign, called for world leaders to prioritise the global health crisis in the same way that they have assisted the current economic crisis - through bailout of major banks and Wall Street investment firms.

“We are already seeing people die and families forced further into poverty by healthcare costs as a direct result of this global economic crisis,” said Dr Lola Dare, executive secretary of the African Council for Sustainable Health Development (ACOSHED), in the statement.

"The fickle policy decisions of world leaders and national government are further compounding these problems. The global health community is speaking with one voice on this urgent need. We can no longer permit the world to be distracted by false choices – between one disease and another, between a mother's life and that of her children, between treating sick people now, in their home communities, and building sustainable health systems for the future to deliver basic health care that can save lives," she said.

The statement by the global health advocates urged that each G-8 country pays 100% of the commitments they have made for 2010 including:

  • universal access to AIDS treatment, prevention, and care
  • full funding for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria
  • additional commitments made for maternal and child health and health systems strengthening.

First decline in HIV funding in decade
A new report on investment in HIV prevention research in 2008 finds that HIV vaccine research funding levels decreased for the first time since investment trends have been tracked. This may have been influenced by shifts in scientific priorities, the declining economy and competing priorities in the larger global health agenda.

Despite this decrease, the overall trend since 2000 has been of increasing investment for experimental biomedical prevention strategies.

The report, Adapting to Realities: Trends in HIV Prevention Research Funding 2000 to 2008, was released at the IAS by the HIV Vaccine and Microbicide Resource Tracking Working Group.

"Research to develop new HIV prevention tools and strategies is essential to prevent new infections, and an HIV vaccine still holds the greatest hope to ending the epidemic," said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS in a statement released by the group.

"It is vitally important that investments into research for HIV prevention be sustained and increased for as long as it takes to reach those goals."

Funding for SA Aids vaccine
Latest figures released by Statistics South Africa this month estimates the total number of people living with HIV in this country at 5.21 million.

The high-profile launch of the first Aids vaccines designed and developed in South Africa was marred by reports that government had decided to stop funding research.

However, the director of the South African Aids Vaccine Initiative (SAAVI), Elise Levendal, said they would be signing a new agreement with the department of health for further funding of R35m for the next three years.

The authors of the Adapting to Realities report cautioned that while it is too early to attribute all of the funding decreases to the financial crisis, there is concern that a prolonged global recession could have a major impact on public investment in all HIV/Aids programs.

(Thania Gopal, Health24, July 2009)

HIV Resouce Tracking Shifting Scientific, Health Priorities and Global Economic Downturn Impact Investment in HIV Prevention R&D Arasa
Press release: Advocates for Health Millennium Development Goals Unite to Demand World Leaders Honour Funding Commitments
South African Aids Vaccine Initiative
Statistics South Africa


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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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