Jeremy Laurance: States need to back up fine words with hard cash if great leap forward is not to be wasted

 

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The gap between rhetoric and reality on Aids has widened to a chasm. While politicians proclaim huge advances – Hillary Clinton speaks of a "historic opportunity to change the course of the pandemic" – governments, including her own, are buckling in the economic storm sweeping the globe and funds are being slashed. A historic opportunity looks like becoming an opportunity grievously missed.

The epidemic is still running ahead of all attempts to contain it. The numbers newly infected – 2.7 million last year, a figure which has remained unchanged for the last five years – still vastly exceed those getting treatment for the first time, which reached 1.35 million last year. The global population with HIV is still expanding.

Two stories have dominated the news in the past year – one bringing hope, the other despair. As the world marks the 30th anniversary of the diagnosis of the first patient with the disease, experts say they now know how to halt its transmission. A study earlier this year showed that treatment with antiretroviral drugs not only keeps patients alive but also dramatically reduces the virus levels in their body, cutting their chance of passing on the infection by 96 per cent.

Hence the proclamation from Ms Clinton (and others) that we could be at the beginning of the end of Aids. Yet her announcement of $60m additional funding to scale up treatment in four countries in sub-Saharan Africa is a sop beside what is needed.

As cash to pay for the drugs has been cut by governments caught in the recession, the Global Fund, which supports 70 per cent of all patients on treatment in poor countries, has cancelled its 11th funding round. Millions with HIV have had their hope of gaining access to treatment dashed. Warm words from President Obama and Ms Clinton will not restore it.

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