Although Prime Minister Stepehn Harper will not attend the International AIDS Conference in Toronto in August, he will make it to the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg this weekend. While there, Harper and the other G8 leaders must face up to their failure to deliver on plans announced last year at Gleneagles to address the AIDS pandemic.
Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy on AIDS in Africa, calls the failure of the G8 to live up to their promises a "scandalous betrayal." The triumphalism of Gleneagles has given way to shattered dreams and broken promises.
At Gleneagles, the G8 promised to cancel the debt of some poor countries and to double development assistance to Africa by 2010.
Both initiatives would provide resources for treating people with AIDS. Tragically, too little was promised at Gleneagles; even less has been delivered. By the time G8 leaders reconvene at St. Petersburg tomorrow, another 3 million people will have perished from AIDS-related diseases.
The United Nations says funding for AIDS prevention, treatment and care programs will fall short by $6.7 billion this year and by $9 billion in 2007.
This shortfall might not exist except for the cost of servicing external debts owed by developing countries that have high HIV infection rates. Three-quarters of these are in sub-Saharan Africa where, on average, 6.1 per cent of the adult population carries the HI virus.
Last year, African countries paid $26.5 billion in interest and principal - more than enough to make up the shortfall for AIDS programs as well as contribute toward fighting poverty and underdevelopment.
The G8’s Gleneagles pledge to increase development assistance to Africa is contradicted by the fact that African countries pay back 65 cents in debt service for every dollar they receive in foreign aid.
In addition, the conditions laid down by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank constitute severe obstacles to the provision of life-saving health care and educational services needed to roll back the AIDS pandemic.
To qualify for debt relief, countries must implement harsh austerity and structural adjustment conditions demanded by the bank and the IMF.
These conditions have led to the undermining of public services, including health care, desperately needed by the nearly 26 million Africans living with HIV.
For example, Kenya was prevented from hiring more than 4,000 trained nurses because of limits on public spending imposed by the IMF.
The amount of debt relief actually approved since Gleneagles is not nearly enough. Only one third of the 60 countries most burdened by AIDS, debt and poverty will have some multilateral debts cancelled as of mid-2006.
These write-offs will amount to just half of their total debts since monies owed to other creditors are not covered. This is considerably less than the "100 per cent" debt relief implied by the statements from G8 leaders a year ago.
Moreover, many of the debts still burdening countries with high HIV rates were "odious" from the beginning in that they were contracted by despotic regimes like those that ruled in Nigeria and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and used against the interests of the people.
The G8 leaders do not recognize the odious nature of these debts despite the fact that they themselves set a precedent by agreeing to write off 80 per cent to 100 per cent of Iraqi debt accumulated under the Saddam Hussein dictatorship.
Of the 10 countries with the highest incidence of HIV infection (that is, rates above 10 per cent of the adult population) only two countries - Zambia and Mozambique - are immediately eligible.
One other country, Malawi, might soon qualify but only if it continues to implement the harsh austerity and structural adjustment conditions demanded by the World Bank and the IMF.
The inadequate commitments made by the G8 have been further eroded by manipulating the cut-off date of the debts eligible for cancellation.
Following the Gleneagles summit, the G8 and other "donor" countries that control the International Development Association (IDA) decided that only debts contracted with the IDA prior to Dec. 31, 2003 will be eligible for cancellation.
This decision to change the cut-off date to the end of 2003 rather than 2004 reduces total debt cancellation promised by the G8 by about $5.6 billion.
Six years ago, 640,000 Canadians and 24 million people worldwide signed the Jubilee petition demanding the cancellation of 100 per cent of all poor countries’ debts.
If the international community is ever to reverse the AIDS pandemic, then the G8 must use the St. Petersburg Summit to announce the cancellation of all the debts owed by impoverished countries burdened by AIDS and an end to the destructive conditions imposed by the international financial institutions.
John Dillon is program co-ordinator for Global Economic Justice for KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives and author of a new report on the G8 ’s response to the AIDS pandemic.