Britain pledges to lead Aids fight with £150m for orphans

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Tony Blair will promise today to put Britain at the front of the global battle against Aids and commit £150m to help orphans in developing countries whose parents have died of the disease.

Tony Blair will promise today to put Britain at the front of the global battle against Aids and commit £150m to help orphans in developing countries whose parents have died of the disease.

Mr Blair will say the illness is a "tragedy that spans personal and global scales" as he launches the Government's strategy for tackling Aids in the developing world.

The Prime Minister, who will hear a message of support from Nelson Mandela, chairman of the International Aids Trust, will say tackling Aids will be a priority of Britain's presidency of the G8 group of rich nations next year.

"It is appalling that life expectancy in some of the worst affected areas is falling back to pre-1950s levels," Mr Blair will say. "Fragile economies are seeing their working-age populations destroyed. We cannot hope to tackle poverty on a global scale without addressing Aids."

It will not be the first time that Mr Blair has pledged to lead the fight against Aids. His record on the issue is expected to come under scrutiny over the decision to cancel all Britain's HIV/Aids programmes in Honduras, which has the worst problem in Central America.

Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the region, now has 60 per cent of HIV/Aids cases in Central America. Infection is spreading from coastal regions to big towns. There is little access to affordable drugs as almost half the population lives on less than £1.20 a day.

Two successful UK programmes to fight HIV/Aids and help sufferers in Honduras will not be renewed after 2005. One programme worth £450,000 is designed to help direct aid to the most vulnerable people in Honduras including gay men and sex workers. Another UK programme worth £550,000 trains health workers in preventing Aids. The Government is also scrapping a £1.75m poverty reduction programme in the country.

MPs have called withdrawing Aids programmes from Honduras "almost criminally irresponsible". John Bercow MP, the shadow International Development Secretary, said the policy was "short sighted and counterproductive".

Although the Prime Minister will announce a doubling the UK's contribution to the UN's global fund to fight Aids, taking it to over £150m over two years, charities have expressed doubts that giving extra money to huge institutions is an efficient way to target the money at Aids sufferers.

Christian Aid said it was a "body blow" that the Government had decided to target 90 per cent of its aid budget at the poorest countries which meant the withdrawal of its programmes from poor communities in middle income countries such as Honduras.

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