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14 Nations Will Adopt Airline Tax to Pay for AIDS Drugs

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Times Staff Writer

A three-day AIDS conference set a goal Friday of doubling spending to slow the spread of the disease, and 14 countries announced an airline ticket tax to fund greater access to AIDS drugs.

The special session on HIV/AIDS was marked by political haggling over the mention of condoms, safe drug use and sex education. Delegates agreed to cite condoms specifically, but language on drug use and sex education is couched in euphemisms.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan pleaded with the assembled representatives, who included African presidents, foreign ministers from around the world and First Lady Laura Bush, to not let politics derail progress.

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“AIDS ... has inflicted the single greatest reversal in the history of human development. The response has started to gain real strength ... but the epidemic continues to outpace us,” he said. “This fight requires every president, every parliamentarian to say, ‘AIDS stops with me.’ ”

Bush called for an international HIV testing day, modeled on the United States’ own, and praised the U.N.'s official anti-AIDS policy called ABC -- Abstinence, Be faithful and Condom use -- without dwelling on the fact that U.S. funds focus on abstinence-only programs, to the criticism of many activists who say that ignoring condoms is unrealistic.

The U.S. sided with unlikely allies such as Syria, Yemen and Pakistan in opposing “empowerment for girls” in birth control and marital relations, and it fought to water down financial targets despite its own substantial contributions.

The U.S. made a commitment in 2003 to spend $15 billion over five years. But along with the European Union and Japan, it fears that the largest donors will carry not only the greatest financial burden of the new goals, but also the blame if they are not met, diplomats said.

The summit is the follow-up to a watershed 2001 conference, which resulted in $8 billion spent on fighting AIDS. This conference, which concluded Friday, was designed to take stock of progress in the five years since. There have been some successes, Annan said: Seven times as many people now have access to AIDS drugs, and the infection rate is declining in several African countries.

But a report released this week also says that the world has failed to meet many of the 2001 goals: Only 9% of pregnant women receive drugs to prevent the transmission of AIDS to their child, despite a target of 80%.

The infection rate has grown rapidly in Asia, which is now second to Africa in the number of HIV positive people.

The U.N. estimates that it needs more than $20 billion by the end of the decade to provide preventive education and medicines to the growing number of people infected. But world leaders shied away from promising specific amounts at the conference, and so far, the AIDS war chest has pledges for less than half what is needed.

But a group of 14 nations, led by France, announced a new mechanism to provide greater access to drugs, funded by a tax on airline tickets that is expected to raise more than $258.3 million a year.

France has voluntarily imposed an economy class levy ranging from 1 euro -- about $1.30 -- in Europe to 4 euros for longer flights. For first and business class, the fee is 10 euros in Europe and 40 euros elsewhere.

The U.S. opposes the tax, but Brazil, Chile, Cyprus, Congo, France, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Norway and Britain have pledged to implement it. Starting July 1, France will collect the fee from all flights entering or leaving France.

“Every person in the world who can afford to buy an air ticket can afford this very mild, minimum-level tax upon it,” said Erik Solheim, Norway’s minister for International Development.

The funds will go to buying AIDS drugs in bulk to help reduce the prices, and to give incentives to drug companies to produce more antiretroviral drugs for children, which are now more expensive and less in demand than adult formulations.


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