Countries to Tax Airfares to Raise Millions for AIDS Drugs

Five countries have announced plans to raise at least $300 million in 2007, mostly through taxes on airline tickets, to help treat children with AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, the New York Times reports.

Acting through UNITAID, a new Geneva-based organization, France, Brazil, Britain, Chile, and Norway will pool their buying power to fund the treatment of 100,000 children with AIDS, 100,000 people who have become resistant to antiretroviral AIDS drugs, 150,000 children with tuberculosis, and 28 million with malaria. The organization will work with the William J. Clinton Foundation to negotiate volume drug discounts from pharmaceutical companies. France is the primary donor to UNITAID and plans to provide $250 million to the organization in 2007, all from an airline ticket surcharge it began collecting this summer that adds €4 (about $5) to the price of every international economy ticket and €40 (about $51) to first-class tickets.

In addition, Britain will contribute almost $25 million, most of that drawn from its growing foreign-aid budget. According to Jean Dussourd, who is coordinating the project for French president Jacques Chirac, a dozen more countries are considering contributing to the plan by imposing airline ticket surcharges. With an ambitious global AIDS program of its own, the United States has opted not to participate.

While the infusion of money has been welcomed by public health experts, some analysts expressed concern that the additional revenue would eventually supplant traditional sources of government assistance, while others warned that focusing on the purchase of medicine and diagnostic tests does not deal with the most difficult obstacles to treatment in Africa — the extreme shortage of health workers and dilapidated or broken public health systems.

Still, UNITAID will provide a reliable source of financing for the medicine and diagnostics, freeing up other groups to focus on systemic problems in African public health. Said Ira Magaziner, who heads the Clinton Foundation's AIDS program, "We'll have a sustainable way to assure a supply of drugs and tests for the long term."

Celia W. Dugger. "Five Nations to Tax Airfare to Raise Funds for AIDS Drugs." New York Times 09/19/2006.