US under fire for 'selective' distribution of HIV funds

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The Independent Online

A leading international trade union has criticised the US for failing to distribute a $2.4bn (£1.4bn) HIV emergency fund fairly.

The US government has pledged to spend the cash on Aids projects in 14 countries next year. But the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine & General Workers Unions (ICEM) is unhappy that the fund is being distributed bilaterally and not through an official global agency.

The ICEM is therefore calling on governments around the world - as well as international financial institutions, donor agencies and inter-governmental bodies - to establish a single agency through which resources for tackling Aids can be channelled.

General secretary Fred Higgs said: "Establishing such a dedicated entity will discourage governments and other donors from selective contributions based on their own interests, and will ensure that resources are directed where most needed in a fair and equitable manner.

"Until such a mechanism is in place, the responses from the international community, although welcome, will not achieve maximum effect."

Mr Higgs said that once established, the body would be responsible for co-ordinating "the many genuine efforts" to control and reverse the HIV/Aids pandemic at international level.

The ICEM has 20 million members worldwide and 420 affiliated unions in 121 countries. It campaigns heavily on HIV and Aids issues because so many of its members have been hit by the pandemic.

The virus has had a particularly devastating effect on developing countries and workers in the energy and mining industries.

In remote mining communities in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the virus has spread extremely rapidly and life expectancy in some countries in the region has dropped to below 40. The ICEM said that HIV and Aids were having a "devastating impact on the world of work".

The federation is currently in talks with seven of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies, including GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer, about the supply of HIV drugs to some of the world's poorest nations. It is particularly concerned about the supply of tailor-made cocktails of anti-retroviral drugs, which are vital in controlling the onset of Aids, and wants the companies to supply them either for free or at affordable prices. The talks are focused on the UN's list of the world's 49 least-developed countries.

Many drug companies already sell HIV and Aids treatments at cheap prices, but the ICEM is keen to bring prices down further under a single agreement with the producers. As well as Glaxo and Pfizer, the world's biggest drugs group, talks are being held with US companies Bristol-Myers Squibb and Abbott Laboratories; Switzerland-based Merck and Roche; and the family-owned German business Boehringer Ingelheim.

Mr Higgs said last month that he was optimistic an agreement would be reached with the seven companies by the end of the first quarter next year.

The ICEM's latest criticism of the US and other governments' approach to Aids funding coincides with World Aids Day tomorrow.