US Donors Pledge Millions to Fight HIV-AIDS

A coalition of the richest philanthropic foundations in the United States pledged $100-million (U.S.) (in 2003), to cut mother-to-child transmission of HIV-AIDS in eight of the world's hardest-hit countries.

The program, dubbed MTCT-Plus, has the backing of some of the world's biggest tycoons, including the Gateses, Packards, Rockefellers and MacArthurs. Half the money will be used to provide life-long treatment for at least 10,000 HIV-positive mothers and their children, and to develop family-centred prevention and treatment methods. "MTCT-Plus can, and will, demonstrate that HIV treatment can be done in the poorest countries," said Allan Rosenfield, dean of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, which is co-ordinating the initiative.

"Our aim is to save thousands of lives now and develop a family-centred care model that can be replicated by others around the world." Each year, more than 2.5 million women become infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, and more than 500,000 transmit the virus to their children. That works out to more than 1,500 new infections daily through mother-to-child transmission although simple drug treatments, costing as little as $1 a day, can cut transmission by up to 80 per cent.

Even if a child is spared infection, however, the mother often dies, leaving an orphan. That's why the new initiative is focusing on getting treatment, in particular drug cocktails, to mothers.

The initiative is concentrating its work in Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Thailand, Uganda and Zambia -countries among the hardest-hit by the epidemic that already have programmes to cut mother-to-child tranmission and make drugs available cheaply.

Already committed to the MTCT-Plus project are the foundations of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda; William and Flora Hewlett and David and Lucile Packard of Hewlett-Packard; Robert Wood Johnson of Johnson & Johnson; former aluminum tycoon Henry J. Kaiser; former realestate and media tycoon John D. MacArthur and his wife Catherine, as well as the foundations of the Rockefeller family and media mogul Ted Turner.

The United Nations says that $10-billion is needed annually to effectively fight the AIDS pandemic. Last year, about $2.8-billion was spent.

Source : Report from Reuters and Associated Press.

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