Fighting HIV/AIDS without global funding?

I recently shared a York Times article – “At Front Lines, AIDS War is Falling Apart” – describing how aid destined to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa – notably Uganda – has dried up.  This article painted a pretty bleak picture – a continent-full of what the NYT calls “sick people” no longer able to look with hope and gratitude towards “America”.

Friends and family have asked me some great questions lately about this…

First off, is this the full picture?


Over the last five years funders and international NGOs have taken the fight against the epidemic to the grassroots – and the results have been impressive.  Drug costs have plummeted (from $10,000 per patient per year to $100) and countless innovative solutions for community and home-based care have opened doors for new opportunities – and hope – for the 33 million people living with HIV/AIDS around the world.

Major funding commitments from recent Western leaders started this.  However, recent economic and political tides have shifted.  Budgets are tighter and “sexier” development priorities have emerged – CIDA likes building dams in Afghanistan, for example.  In countries like Uganda, funding remains the same despite approximately 100,000 more people being diagnosed as HIV+ each year.

In Cameroon, the picture seems even more fraught with challenges.  Throughout the country there are approximately 560,000 people living with HIV – or 5.1% of the population.  While Uganda (and others) have higher prevalence rates, Cameroon has some added wrinkles…

For one, major international HIV/AIDS donors have – literally – run screaming from the lush tropical shores of Cameroon.  They’ve bemoaned the bureaucratic hurdles, woefully inadequate medical distribution systems, and even wide-scale misappropriation of funds.  Not a pretty picture.  The problems are extremely complex and don’t stop at replacing corrupt officials – it’s a “systems thing”.  For these reasons, for the last few years the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria – and other major NGOs-  have refused to fund new HIV initiatives in Cameroon.

No new funding for anti-retrovirals (ARVs).  No new testing and prevention programs.  HIV+ individuals already “eligible” – in theory – continue to receive donated ARVs, but none of the thousands of people diagnosed this year will be eligible.

So, in Cameroon and Uganda – like in many other African countries – people living with HIV/AIDS get turned away from treatment centres, life-saving medicines become scarce and … ultimately … people suffer.

The other side of the story, however, is not so discouraging.  There are incredible success stories out there of programmes that change lives. And these aren’t just funded by Western governments and international NGOs.  National governments, local nonprofits and grassroots community groups are taking on the challenge.

For example, another New York Times article – “South Africa Redoubles Efforts Against AIDS” – described how the South African government – long a ditherer and denier of the HIV/AIDS epidemic – just added an extra $1 billion dollar – from their own national budget – to bring free testing and treatment services to ALL of that country’s 4,333 public health centres.  By June of this year, their goal is to see 15 million South Africans get tested – voluntarily.

In Cameroon, there are many groups of community members who have banded together to help support and care for people living with HIV and AIDS.  The Photovoice project I recently facilitate was with one such group.  Sometimes these community-based organizations get money from outside donors, but often they share their own resources to help each other as they need it.  They also educate their own communities about HIV and show why HIV+ people can be active and productive members of society.  They let people know that – as one member put it – “HIV is something people get, not something you buy”.

So, this brings me to the second question I’ve been asked lately:

What can make a difference in fighting HIV in the new global funding reality?

A LOT!  And donating money isn’t the only way to keep the fight going.

For one, why not consider volunteering?  Maroua is lovely at this time of year!  50 Celsius and humid!  Paradise!  Don’t worry, organizations like CUSO-VSO send volunteers to work in the HIV/AIDS sector in all kinds of places around the world.  Volunteer placements for professionals range from 3 months to 2 years.

HIV/AIDS organizations in Canada also look for volunteers and community advocates.  One of my personal favourites is the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s network of “Grannies”, who working through the Grandmother to Grandmother Campaign seek to build solidarity, raise awareness and mobilize support in Canada for Africa’s grandmothers.

Personally, I think the most important thing we can all do is talk.  Since funding for HIV/AIDS has succumbed to the shifting tides of politics, talking with friends and family and putting pressure on our politicians is also really important right now.  The more informed – and vocal – we all are, the more likely funding HIV/AIDS will become “sexy” again in the eyes of our leaders.  Write letters to the editor of your paper, write or sit down with your MP or even sign a petition put forward by the Canadian Labour Congress’ and CUPE’s petition to lobby the G8 and G20 for universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care.

Just a couple ideas for getting involved in supporting a fight that is far from hopeless.

~ by Greg Spira on May 15, 2010.

One Response to “Fighting HIV/AIDS without global funding?”

  1. Great information for the public to know the reality about HIV/AIDS funding.

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