U.S. Taxpayers Spend Twice as Much Globally on AIDS as on All Other Diseases, GAO Reports

By Pete Winn | October 13, 2010 | 6:10 PM EDT

A South African pharmacist holds HIV drugs as he explains the dosage. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com)U.S. taxpayers spend almost twice as much to combat HIV/AIDS worldwide as they do on all other global health-related assistance programs combined. Also, U.S. funding to other countries for HIV/AIDS has gone up sharply since 2004. 

According to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), U.S. spending worldwide on HIV/AIDS has gone from $204.1 million in 2001 to $3.3 billion in 2008 – an increase of more than 1,500 percent over seven years. 

At the same time, U.S spending worldwide on all “other health” programs, which includes “maternal and child health, infectious disease prevention and malaria control,” according to the GAO, went from $1.3 billion in 2001 to $1.7 billion in 2008. 

Since 2003, meanwhile, payments to foreign countries for HIV/AIDS have grown significantly, in comparison with spending on other health programs, which have gone up and down over the same time period, the government watchdog reported. 

The U.S. spent $204 million on aid to foreign nations for HIV/AIDS in FY 2001; $310 million in FY 2002; $700 million in FY2003; $1.21 billion in FY2004; $1.74 billion in FY2005; $2.15 billion in FY2006; $2.68 billion in FY2007 and 3.3 billion in FY 2008.

By contrast, on “other” health programs abroad, the U.S. spent $1.29 billion in FY 2001; $1.42 billion in FY2002; $1.2 billion in FY2003; $1.36 billion in FY2004; $1.73 billion in FY2005; $1.6 billion in FY2006; $1.48 billion in FY2007 and $1.70 billion in FY2008. 

Any way you parse the numbers, however, the increases in spending for HIV/AIDS are huge. 

For HIV/AIDS programs abroad, total disbursements grew from $1.2 billion during FY2001-2003 to a total $11.1 billion over FY 2004-2008.  

“In fiscal year 2004, the amount of money that U.S. taxpayers spent on HIV/AIDS programs was roughly equivalent to the total for the previous 3 years combined,” according to GAO. 

“By fiscal year 2008, annual U.S. spending on global HIV/AIDS programs was nearly three times the 2004 total,” the report noted, adding that in 2005, U.S. spending on HIV/AIDS programs “was, for the first time, higher than spending on other health programs.” 

By 2008, “almost twice as much was spent on HIV/AIDS programs as on other health programs,” the government auditor reported.  

U.S. spending on AIDS to foreign countries began to skyrocket in FY2004, according to the GAO, because in July 2003 President George W. Bush and Congress created a program called PEPFAR – the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief -- a five year program worth $15 billion. 

“The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), reauthorized in 2008 at $48 billion through 2013, has made significant investments in support of prevention of HIV/AIDS as well as care and treatment for those affected by the disease in 31 partner countries and 3 regions,” the GAO said.  

The GAO noted that, in 2009 – outside the time frame for its audit -- PEPFAR reported it had paid for the drugs to treat more than 2.4 million patients with HIV/AIDS and to care and support for more than 11 million people affected by the disease.  

Fifteen nations, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa – Botswana; Côte d'Ivoire; Ethiopia; Guyana; Haiti; Kenya; Mozambique; Namibia; Nigeria; Rwanda; South Africa; Tanzania; Uganda; Vietnam; Zambia -- have been the recipients of the bulk of PEPFAR money, though other nations have received money from U.S. taxpayers. 

South Africa, for instance, which received a combined total of $76,897,857 in U.S. aid for HIV/AIDS from 2001-2003, received $727,364,762 under PEPFAR during 2004-2008. 

The United States, meanwhile, has contributed other funds to combat AIDS worldwide. In fact, it is the largest contributor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria -- an international public-private partnership based in Switzerland. 

“From 2001 to 2008, the United States has contributed about $3.5 billion to the organization,” the GAO said. “For 2009 and 2010, the United States has pledged $1 billion and $1.05 billion, respectively, to the Global Fund.”  

Spending on HIV/AIDS promises to go significantly higher in the near future, the report noted. 

In May 2009, President Barack Obama announced the creation of a new Global Health Initiative (GHI) and proposed $63 billion in funding for all global health programs, including HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and maternal and child health, through 2014.  

“According to the proposal, the majority of this funding--$51 billion, or 81 percent--is slated for global HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria programs,” the GAO report noted.

Meanwhile, UNAIDS, the United Nations HIV/AIDS directorate, says the number of diagnosed cases of HIV/AIDS worldwide went from 29.5 million in 2001 to 33.4 million in 2008. Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 20.4 million cases in 2001, increasing to 23.9 million in 2008. 

According to World Health Organization figures, in 2008, approximately 2 million people worldwide died of HIV-related causes, and the GAO report noted that an estimated 2.7 million people were newly infected with HIV. 

By contrast, WHO says 9 million people become ill with just one non-AIDS disease -- active tuberculosis – and nearly 2 million die each year. 

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