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Crisis opens new paths in search for AIDS funds

PARIS -- The star-studded world AIDS conference opening in Washington on Sunday will hear urgent appeals for funds at a crucial point in a war now in its fourth decade.

Cash-strapped Western donors that have led a string of victories, in devising new drugs and getting them to poor people, are refusing to dig deeper into their pockets.

For some experts, this revives memories of the traumatic “money crunch” of a dozen years ago when millions of HIV-infected Africans were left to die.

On the other hand, domestic funds are now coming on stream in big developing countries — as are smarter ways of using the money.

“After years of international investment, just when we seem to have the right technologies, drugs and approaches to keep the epidemic under control, success hangs in the balance,” says the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

In 2011, global spending on AIDS was US$16.8 billion, an increase of 11 percent over 2010, according to figures published on Wednesday by UNAIDS.

The boost helped get another 1.4 million poor people on AIDS drugs, bringing the tally to a record of more than eight million, or 54 percent of those in need.

But there was a funding gap of US$7 billion, half of it in sub-Saharan Africa, home to 69 percent of the 34 million people living with HIV.

For the first time, assistance from international donors — the United States and other Western countries, together with philanthropists and agencies such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria — amounted to less than half of the worldwide contribution.

Their spending has remained almost unchanged since Western economies were whacked by the financial crisis in 2008.

Instead, emerging economies are shouldering far more of their own burden, which in turn is freeing Western funds for the poorest nations.

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