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Obama pledges up to $5 billion to global (AIDS/TB/Malaria) infectious diseases fund


Shawn Thew/EPA - President Obama speaks at a World AIDS Day event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, near the White House in Washington, D.C., Dec. 2, 2013.
By Ariana Eunjung Cha, Monday, December 2, 3:03 PM, Washington Post President Obama on Monday pledged to give up to $5 billion to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria over the next three years, saying an "AIDS-free generation" may be within reach.
The pledge represents $1 billion more than the United States committed during the previous round of funding in 2010, when Obama faced criticism for not doing enough and setting a bad example that gave other countries an excuse to limit their donations. The $5 billion contribution, the amount activists asked for, will be met if other countries commit to giving $10 billion as per a 1-to-2 funding ratio set by Congress.
"We're making progress," Obama said at a White House event marking World AIDS Day, which was Sunday. "But we're all here today because we know how much work remains to be done."
Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Canada, Germany and France also announced separately that they had raised their contributions to the Global Fund, which was created in 2002 to coordinate international efforts to fight infectious disease in low-income countries. It now provides more than 20 percent of resources for HIV treatment and prevention.
The announcements represent a redoubling of global efforts to fight AIDS. Despite billions spent on research in the 34 years since the virus was recognized, a vaccine has eluded scientists, and efforts to stop the spread of the disease through preventive measures, such as microbial gels, have been unexpectedly challenging. One million Americans are living with AIDS today. In his remarks, Obama said "we need to keep focusing on investments to communities that are still being hit hardest, including gay and bisexual men, African Americans and Latinos. We need to keep up the fight in our cities, including Washington, D.C., which in recent years has reduced diagnosed infections by nearly half. And we're going to keep pursuing scientific breakthroughs."
"We will win this battle, but it is not over yet," he concluded. In announcing the additional funds on Monday, White House officials outlined a multipronged approach to fighting AIDS.
On the research front, the National Institutes of Health will redirect $100 million to advance study into new generation therapies to develop an HIV cure. In terms of public health, Health and Human Services Secretary Katherine Sebelius announced a campaign to get all pregnant women in the United States screened for HIV.
Obama has been under pressure in recent months from U.S. lawmakers and activists and public health leaders worldwide to do more to fight the global pandemic. In early November, a bipartisan group of 40 lawmakers urged him to double support for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a program strongly supported by former President George W. Bush that has provided treatments for millions of people infected with HIV in Africa. Bush put $15 million into the program, but U.S. funding has fallen since his tenure.
Some of the funding shortfall over the years has been made up from private sources, largely from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which on Monday pledged to give up to an additional $500 million in matching funds to the Global Fund. The foundation run by the Microsoft co-founder and the world's richest man has contributed $1.4 billion to the global program in total. The largest chunk $750 million was donated last year as an emergency measure to keep AIDS drugs programs afloat as support from governments dwindled amid the economic downturn. Since it was founded in 1997, the Gates Foundation has become one of the most influential players in global health care, disbursing 17 percent of the world's funds for research and development. The NIH, in comparison, provides 36 percent. In an interview with a small group of reporters at the NIH with director Francis Collins on Monday morning, Bill Gates said that his foundation is matching donations from private sources such as the proceeds from a recent red auction in New York that brought in $13 million and a $65 million donation from a philanthropist from Indonesia.
"We're encouraging new types of people to get in," he said.
Gates said that to defeat killers like AIDS it's important to fund both the biomedical side and the "delivery side" the role the Global Fund plays in taking new treatments to communities.
"If you want to get scientists to discover things, they have to see that there is money for it to delivered," Gates said. "Otherwise there's no reason to do the discovery."
Zachary A. Goldfarb contributed to this report.
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