For the past week the leaders of the world's most powerful nations, the Group of Eight (G8), have been holding a summit in Heiligendamm, Germany.
In what many are calling one of the most contentious meetings to date, one agenda item receiving top billing is climate change and what to do once the Kyoto Protocol on cutting greenhouse-gas emissions expires in 2012. The United States, which has not ratified the original Kyoto Protocol, remains opposed to setting binding emissions targets despite having agreed that action is needed. There was also a great deal of tension between the United States and Russia on the matter of missile defense. Another big issue was whether or not to grant supervised independence to Kosovo, a province of the former Yugoslavia.
Missile defense, climate change and Kosovo notwithstanding, there are many global issues that did not make it onto the meeting agenda. The poverty and HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa, however, did receive some attention from the world's wealthiest industrialized nations. On the final day of the summit, the eight member nations met with African leaders to agree on a program in which half the funds will come from the United States and the remaining funds from the rest of the nations. A $60 billion pledge to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases in Africa has not met expectations. The declaration has fallen far short of the promises made two years ago at the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland.
"Aids advocates are dismayed by its vague language and lack of planning to meet ambitious goals, despite its promise to add $30-billion to U.S. commitments," Kate Krauss, spokesperson for the U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights said. Krauss claims that despite commitments made by the G8 at the 2005 meeting, there has been little progress toward the goal of achieving universal access to comprehensive HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care and support programs by 2010, or toward developing and strengthening African health systems. "The G8 communiqué is turning into a wish list, and not a document that is going to save lives…There needs to be a plan for meeting the previous commits made at Gleneagles. If there is no specific plan for meeting the goals that they are setting out, they don't happen," Krauss said.
UNAIDS estimates put the number of people needing AIDS treatment by 2013 at 12 million, which means that approximately 8 million people will die without treatment unless the United States or other G8 countries fill the gap. "Even this $60-billion smoke screen can't cover up for the abject failure of the G8 to move forward on their AIDS promises. This is devastating news for the 40-million people living with HIV and AIDS," said Aditi Sharma, ActionAIDS' head of HIV/AIDS campaign. "Twenty-four thousand people have died over the last three days while G8 leaders have been wrangling over text on how many lives to save." Read an interview with Ms. Sharma here.
"Without a time frame, no one can be held accountable," said Marcel van Soest, the executive director of the World AIDS Campaign, an umbrella group based in the Netherlands.
Dr. Van Soest called the G8's statement "a huge step backwards," and said the leaders failed to live up to the commitments they made at a previous G8 meeting in Scotland in 2005. At that time, the leaders pledged to insure universal access to HIV treatment by 2010. While the communiqué issued today still refers to "universal access," its commitments are only to putting 5 million people into treatment "in the next few years," said Tido von Schoen-Angerer of Doctors without Borders.
In a final communiqué from the summit, the meeting also called for a "more just and equitable global market" and for the respect of "freedom of circulation for people between borders." Such posturing is maddeningly ineffective and tragically insignificant in the face of the very real statistics that are so often cited yet so rarely acted upon. This most recent meeting of global powers was indeed a perfect opportunity to channel much needed resources to change a dire situation.