UK joins French plan to provide drugs for Africa's Aids children

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France, Britain and three other countries are launching a $300m (£160m) plan to raise funds through a tax on airline tickets for the treatment of children with Aids, malaria and tuberculosis.

The initiative, announced by the United Nations yesterday, aims to help some 200,000 children who have contracted Aids, as well as 150,000 victims of tuberculosis and 28 million with malaria. The group, which also includes Norway, Brazil and Chile, intends to enlist the foundation set up by the former US president, Bill Clinton, to negotiate lower prices with the international drug companies.

The scheme is being operated through a new organisation, Unitaid, based in Geneva. Unitaid has been structured to provide long-term financing for a treatment that will last the entire life of an Aids patient.

"We'll have a sustainable way to assure a supply of drugs and tests for the long term," Ira Magaziner, the former White House aide who heads the foundation's Aids programme, told The New York Times.

But some public health experts worry that a new long-term dedicated tax could lead to cuts in existing government programmes to tackle Aids. Others warn it will not address the chronic lack of trained health personnel in Africa.

The main contributor to the scheme is France, which will provide $250m raised through a tax on international flights which went into operation this year. Britain will chip in $25m in 2007.

The UN estimates that antiretroviral drugs are getting to only 80,000 of the 660,000 children world-wide who need them.