The UK government has defended making a 22% cut to HIV prevention funding in the international aid budget.
The funding came under scrutiny during a Parliamentary debate yesterday, which took place to mark World AIDS Day.
Labour MP Roberta Blackman-Woods warned: “Although the UK remains the second-largest donor to the global HIV response, it is concerning that total DFID funding for HIV/AIDS declined by 22% between 2012 and 2015.
“Although the UK has increased funding through multilateral institutions such as the global fund, that has not made up for the sharp decline in funding for DFID country office programmes, which fell from £221 million in 2009 to £23 million in 2015.
“There has been a decline in DFID funding for civil society organisations, which do such important work on the ground to tackle AIDS and HIV.
“We should pay tribute to them and ensure that their work is funded properly. Does the Minister intend to stop that reduction in funding and to fund those organisations properly?”
The SNP’s Chris Law added: “Only last week, the World Health Organisation highlighted the fact that the number of new infections in Europe is growing at an ‘alarming rate’.
“In central Asia, infections have increased by more than half since 2010. Key populations, for example, men who have sex with men, transgender people, people who use drugs and sex workers, are disproportionately affected by HIV.
“A further challenge is the high price of intellectual property and drug prices, which remain a barrier for HIV patients’ access to medicine. UNAIDS predicts we would need an additional $7 billion annually to respond to the global HIV challenge.
“However, total DFID HIV funding decreased by 22% between 2012 and 2015, and the Department’s last strategy on HIV expired more than two years ago. It has no plans to renew it.
“Without a strategy, DFID has no way to set and communicate priorities or measure impact. I would therefore urge the Minister to increase overall levels of UK funding for the global HIV response, in line with UNAIDS recommendations, and to formalise and make public its approach to HIV.”
However, government minister Alistair Burt insisted the government remains committed to HIV prevention funding and challenged the suggestion that the government has slashed funding.
He said: “On the STOPAIDS suggestion of a 22% cut, our response is that the report gives a snapshot of the figures in a given year and does not always reflect everything that is going on as programmes come to an end and others start.
“It also does not reflect our huge multi-year global fund contribution. The timing of disbursements partly accounts for the difference in spend between years, but committing £2.4 billion since 2010 to multilateral funds is substantial.
“The other issue was integrating the funds and the tracking. DFID uses an HIV policy objective marker to track spending on HIV within broader programming. The system ensures that programmes address a range of developmental priorities, such as health-systems strengthening, governance, social protection and sexual, reproductive and health rights.
“I take the point that it is difficult to track, but it is important that we put the funds into integrated services, as well as spending them directly.
“There are the technical challenges of tracking, so let me take that away as well—not necessarily to change it, but to see what might be done better to give more transparency.
“We will keep the process of integrating the funds going. It is right and proper to do so, along with the other commitments that we make. With that, let me sit down to allow the hon. Member for Cardiff South a couple of minutes to sum up.”
A drop in UK contributions to the global fight against HIV/AIDS will do little to calm fears in the sector.
There have previously been warnings that US funding for global HIV prevention could be slashed under GOP spending plans.
After Donald Trump’s tax reforms passed through Congress, it is likely that funding will be squeezed.
Experts have warned that a failure to sustain funding for HIV prevention could prolong the global epidemic, costing billions in the long run.