Showgirl activist Vanessa Wagner has lent her support to a campaign which urges the Australian government to contribute more money on international HIV/AIDS projects.

Australian aid agencies Oxfam Community Aid Abroad and M?cins Sans Fronti?s are urging the Australian government to step up its international efforts in tackling HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, by making a contribution to the Global Fund.

The Global Fund, a partnership between government, non-government organisations and the private sector, assists developing countries to scale up resources for the prevention, treatment and care of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. While countries including the UK, US and New Zealand have given to the Global Fund, Australia and South Korea are the only wealthy countries yet to contribute.

Since 2001, the Global Fund has attracted US$4.7 billion in pledges and in its first two rounds of grant-making, it has committed US$1.5 billion in funding to support 154 programs in 93 countries worldwide. Forty-two million women, men and children are living with HIV/AIDS globally, and over 95 percent of these people are in developing countries.

Over the next five years, the Global Fund’s programs will provide anti-retroviral treatment for over 700,000 people living with HIV/AIDS. But there are many more people in need -“ let’s not only look after our own backyard but look after others, Vanessa Wagner said.

We are urging the Australian government to join other countries and to make an equitable contribution to the Global Fund of AUD$110 million, in addition to its existing overseas aid commitments said Alison Wells, Oxfam Community Aid Abroad’s HIV/AIDS advocacy coordinator.

AFAO president Bill Whittaker said the Australian government had initially resisted contributing to the Global Fund because it was unsure of its commitment to the Asia Pacific region. However, he said the Australian government and Australian NGOs had made a substantial contribution to the fight against HIV in the region.

I would say three things. First, because of the increasing scale of the epidemic the Australian government needs to commit more money to the fight against HIV both here and in our region and globally. Second, the funding needs to be allocated as part of a more strategic approach to ensure it is well targeted, and third, it is time as part of that strategic approach to make some contribution to the Global Fund, Whittaker said.

Whittaker said recent work by the Global Fund in Asia proved the time for scepticism had passed and Australia should now be part of this coordinated international effort. However, he noted that the US was the largest contributor to the Fund and that the US health secretary was the current chair. He warned that vigilance was needed to ensure the Fund was not influenced by some of the more conservative agendas of the Bush administration towards harm reduction, especially needle/syringe programs.

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