South Africa: protesters march on US consulate to demand raise in AIDS funding for Africa

Thursday, June 17, 2010

SAfrica protesters march for US AIDS funding

JOHANNESBURG — Thousands of South African protesters marched on the U.S. consulate Thursday to demand the U.S. increase its AIDS funding for Africa, weeks after U.S. officials said their biggest AIDS fund would not substantially rise.

The protesters, clad in green T-shirts emblazoned with the words “HIV-Positive,” marched before the consulate in a wealthy northern suburb of Johannesburg to demand that the U.S. government increase its contribution to the Global Fund on AIDS, TB and Malaria to $2.8 billion by 2013.

Protest organizers said the lack of a significant increase in the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — a major funder of AIDS programs around the world — has led clinics to run out of drugs and forced providers to ration treatment.

Officials from the international program, known as PEPFAR, say this year’s budget had increased only marginally, from $6.8 billion in 2010 to nearly $7 billion for 2011.

But in a statement, protesters said more funding was needed.

“Over the years ahead, (lack of funding) will condemn millions of newly infected patients to death and threaten the health of those already on treatment,” the statement said.

South Africa, a nation of about 50 million, has an estimated 5.7 million people infected with HIV, more than any other country. It is the largest recipient of PEPFAR funds.

U.S. officials in South Africa said in a statement that the country’s share has increased, and that “the U.S. remains fully committed to the fight against HIV/AIDS, especially in Africa, and remains the largest funder and technical adviser of the global response.”

Protesters also called on the European Union, China, Japan and Canada to increase their AIDS funding and for African nations to meet a previous commitment to increase health spending to 15 percent annually.

Mark Heywood, deputy chairman of the South African National Aids Council, lambasted world leaders for cutting back on AIDS funding in the wake of the global economic crisis.

“The United States must support AIDS treatment and increase AIDS funding to developing countries,” he said.

Mathabo Labase, 44, said she decided to participate in the protest because she struggles to raise her four orphaned grandchildren after their parents died of AIDS.

“People are dying, adults and children,” she said. “We want help.”

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