Gates fears foreign cuts may hit Africas AIDS fight

Author: Tamar Kahn

Source: Business Day

BILL Gates has warned ahead of the UN General Assembly in New York that potential cuts to foreign aid threaten the world’s chances of ending poverty and eradicating diseases by 2030, with particularly dire consequences for Africa’s HIV and AIDS efforts. A 10 percent cut in funding for HIV and AIDS could lead to the death of 5.6-million people by 2030, said the Microsoft founder ahead of the release of a report from his philanthropic foundation on how the world is progressing towards 18 of the health and poverty-related targets set out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

South African officials are anxiously watching to see whether US President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts to foreign aid are passed by the Congress, as such a move could reduce both the bilateral and indirect support that it provides to South African HIV and AIDS programmes. SA is also vulnerable to a reduction in contributions to international agencies such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Gates said the world really did step up with an incredible level of generosity, which has meant that AIDS-related deaths have fallen by almost half since the peak in 2005.

This commitment to get the drugs to be cheaper and get them out to everybody has made a huge difference. But, he said, countries are considering possible funding cuts. Such cuts would be a big setback to Africa, which was poised for a large increase in the number of people aged between 16 and 24, the population most at risk of HIV infections. Gates said he thought it unlikely that Congress would approve Trump’s proposed cuts, which entail shaving almost $1-billion off the US contribution to global HIV and AIDS efforts, including a $222-million cut to its contribution to the Global Fund.

Gates and his wife, Melinda, expressed concern in the report that shifting priorities could lead the world to waver in its commitments, risking backsliding on the progress made to cut deaths and improve people’s health and wellbeing. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation commissioned the US Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation to project the likely range of outcomes for selected SDG indicators. It found the world was on the right track regarding combating child mortality: 6-million fewer children died in 2016 than in 1990.

If efforts continued at the current pace, the number of children under five who die annually could halve by 2030. Progress in preventing malaria deaths is less promising unless there are significant new innovations, it warned. The Goalkeeper’s Report will be released annually until 2030 to coincide with the UN Special Assembly, to hold world leaders to account on progress towards the SDGs.