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January 29, 2009 9:07 AM

From Davos: U.S. funds executive bonuses but breaks health promises

Posted by Kristi Heim

While U.S. bailout funds will help pay $18 billion in holiday bonuses for Wall Street executives, the U.S. has broken its promise to fund a global health program that saves millions of lives.

That was the scathing assessment of Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special adviser to the U.N. Secretary General, speaking on a conference call this morning.

The economic crisis has resulted in a $5 billion funding gap for the Global Fund because countries, led by the U.S., are falling short on their pledges, Sachs and others said.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB & Malaria is the main source of finance for programs to prevent and treat the three diseases. The fund gathers money from donor countries and provides a quarter of all international financing for AIDS, two-thirds for tuberculosis and three quarters for malaria.

"I would suggest the U.S. reclaim those bonuses, which are absolutely unjustified and completely unconscionable, and put the money in the Global Fund immediately," Sachs said.

The $5 billion shortfall is less than one-half of one percent of what G8 countries have approved to bail out failing banks in the last three months, he added. The Merrill Lynch bonuses alone would be enough to close the gap in U.S. contributions, Sachs said.

The Fund projects it will need $8 billion to continue its work in 2009 and 2010, yet current pledges total only $3 billion. The U.S. and other donor countries pledged to support all valid Global Fund programs by committing about 0.7 of 1% of GNP in aid.

Despite a 2002 pledge made by the Bush Administration to honor that commitment, "the United States is not only not on track; it's fallen back to become the donor with the smallest donation as a share of income of all the rich countries," said Sachs. "We're at 0.16 of 1% of our income for development assistance. It's the lowest level of all 22 donor countries."

As a result, the Fund is delaying programs and cutting costs, and using this week's World Economic Forum to call attention to the issue.

The world shouldn't squander progress on major diseases for short term gains, said Peter Chernin, president of News Corp. and chairman of Malaria No More.

Goals include guaranteeing global access to antiretroviral drugs for HIV by 2010 and reducing malaria deaths to near zero by 2012.

Malaria control is an example of a good return on investment, Chernin said.

Programs are showing real results such as a 66 percent drop in malaria-related deaths in Rwanda in one year following increased use of bednets to prevent bites and treatment with effective medicine.

"In today's uncertain marketplace," Chernin said, the Global Fund "delivers proven results in both economic and humanitarian terms." Malaria alone costs Africa $12 billion a year in lost productivity, he noted.

Chernin said he's working to boost donations to the fund from the private sector.

Chevron was the first private company to step up, with a $30 million donation, said Rajat Gupta, a McKinsey senior partner who chairs the Global Fund. The (Product) Red project has raised about $150 million.

Tomorrow, Chernin will join with Exxon Mobil and Standard Charter Bank to launch a campaign to raise $100 million from private companies, primarily for malaria programs funded through the Global Fund. The campaign will also ask companies to provide technical and business assistance, such as logistics for bed net delivery and marketing efforts to increase the use of bed nets.

Update and correction:

The following passage was incorrectly attributed to Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS, due to an error in the call transcript. The comment was made by Jeffrey Sachs.

"Despite a 2002 pledge made by the Bush Administration to honor that commitment, the United States is not only not on track; it's fallen back to become the donor with the smallest donation as a share of income of all the rich countries. We're at 0.16 of 1% of our income for development assistance. It's the lowest level of all 22 donor countries."

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