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Global Fund

3. Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): What recent assessment he has made of contributions and pledges to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. [45076]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): The international community pledged $3.7 billion at the global fund replenishment conference in September 2005. This will allow the continuation of all existing grants. A further $3.3 billion is needed to ensure that the global fund can approve new rounds of grants in 2006–07. A follow-up conference will be held in June to review the resources needed and to secure additional pledges.

Sandra Gidley: The Secretary of State has just announced that there is a $3.3 billion shortfall. In the light of that, will he explain how the universal access to AIDS treatment promised at Gleneagles will be delivered?

Hilary Benn: It is partly going to be about the money, which is why a further meeting is to be held in June. As the hon. Lady will be aware, the United Kingdom is playing its part, having doubled its contributions and then doubled them again. This is not just about funding the drugs, however. It is also about ensuring that the necessary health service capacity exists to test people, to
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administer the drugs and to ensure that people keep to their regimes. There is now more money in the international system than in the past. The three by five target—and now the target of treating as many people as possible by 2010—will help to make progress, but the truth is that we have a long way to go to bring prevention, treatment and care to all who need it, which is what the commitment that we entered into at Gleneagles is all about.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fight against AIDS is not just a question of finance? Is he in a position to update the House on the progress made through the World Trade Organisation to ensure that multinational drug companies cannot prevent the worst-hit nations from importing and manufacturing drugs that will help the victims of AIDS?

Hilary Benn: Through the changes made under the trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights agreement—the TRIPS agreement—developing countries are now in a better position compulsorily to license the manufacture of such drugs, if they have their own manufacturing capacity and, under the most recent change, to import from others if they do not. We need to work with and support developing countries in using the powers available to them, to ensure that they can obtain the drugs at a price they can afford.

We also need to encourage the drug companies to undertake more research into antiretroviral treatment for children. One of the problems that developing countries face is that because AIDS did not develop in the west as a disease that affected children, the research went into the treatment of adults. Children have particular needs, however. We are funding some research to make progress, but I hope that the pharmaceutical companies will do more, because many children are born HIV-positive and they will need this treatment if they are to stay alive.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Do the Government have an estimate of how many people are suffering from these dreadful diseases in Africa? What proportion of them will be treated under the policies and programmes that the Secretary of State is describing?

Hilary Benn: There are 40 million HIV-positive people in the world, the bulk of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa. From memory, about 550,000 people in that region were on antiretroviral treatment as at June 2005. That was treble the number on that treatment 12 months earlier, but as the right hon. Gentleman can see from the statistics, it is still well short of the number required. However, a recent change has taken place in Nigeria—a large and populous country, where one in 10 of the world's HIV-positive population live—where the authorities have just stopped requiring co-payment from patients for antiretroviral treatment, because they realised that that was one of the obstacles preventing more people from getting access to the treatment there.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the major problems with the global fund is the lack of long-term certainty over its funding? Yet again, it was only last-minute
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contributions—including some from this country—that allowed the round 5 talks to go ahead this year. If we are to plan for the future, we do not want continually to be in a position of not knowing how much money is going to be available even one year ahead. Will the Secretary of State press that matter at the next replenishment conference?

Hilary Benn: My hon. Friend, who does so much work on this, is absolutely right. The successful bit of the replenishment conference was indeed the fact that sufficient funding was made available to continue with all the current projects. We are looking to launch a round 6 this year. In the end, this is about encouraging people to contribute more through the global fund, because that is part of the fight against AIDS, as well as TB and malaria, and through supporting developing countries in improving their health services. It is worth reflecting on the fact that, as of December, the global fund was supporting 384,000 people on antiretroviral treatment. It helped to treat 1 million cases of TB and distributed 8 million insecticide-treated bed nets. Those are practical examples of the effect the fund is having.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): The Secretary of State will know that the global fund is supporting several excellent programmes in Rwanda, where education, prevention and treatment, but above all the political will of the President and his Government, are making a real contribution to curtailing the AIDS epidemic there. Will the right hon. Gentleman contrast that with the lack of political will and the abject failure of leadership by the South African authorities? The President does not accept the gravity of the situation and the Minister of Health does not believe in antiretroviral treatment—that in a country that already has more than 1 million AIDS orphans.

Hilary Benn: I know that the hon. Gentleman has this morning returned from a visit to Rwanda, and I join him in paying tribute to the efforts being made in that country, including by the organisation Surf, which he was visiting as part of his trip, providing help to those who were infected in the genocide. It is doing remarkable work.

The hon. Gentleman is right about the need of Governments, wherever they are, to tell the truth about HIV, how it is contracted, how people can prevent themselves from becoming HIV-positive and what needs to be done to save people's lives. That includes all countries. There is a process of change taking place in South Africa, where, in the end, public opinion has, I think, encouraged the Government to change the view that they were taking. I hope that that will continue, because we are now very clear in our own minds about all the things that need to happen if people's lives are to be saved—tell the truth and give them the means to protect themselves.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement about children and AIDS. Will he support the call by UNICEF for a £200 million fund to develop a combination formula for children and also to deal with the diagnostics, which are particularly important for young children? Will he give a commitment on that, or at least agree to take the issue away and look at it?
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Hilary Benn: My hon. Friend, whom I know takes a close interest in these matters, raises an important point involving not just the question of the lack of availability of suitable medicines, but the practical problem of at what point children can be tested to find out whether they are HIV-positive. They will carry the antibodies of their mothers, but until they are two, current testing will not tell us whether they are HIV-positive. It is important that the global fund and others look at ways in which we can provide more support to this important area of work. That is why we are co-funding with the Medical Research Council a project considering attempts to trial new treatments to see whether they will work with children.

Asian Tsunami

4. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): If he will make a statement on continuing aid for reconstruction purposes for those countries affected by the tsunami. [45077]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): The majority of countries hit by the tsunami have pledges of aid sufficient to meet the funding required for reconstruction. For example, in Sri   Lanka, the cost of recovery has been an estimated $2.2 billion, and the Sri Lankan Government have indicated that all pledges received total some $3.3 billion. However, in all the countries affected there are big challenges in turning that into reconstruction, some of which will take many years to complete.

Miss McIntosh: The Disasters Emergency Committee raised an unprecedented £372 million, only a third of which was spent in the first year. Does the Secretary of State share my concern that Indonesia suffered 60 per cent. of the damage caused by the tsunami, yet is having real problems with long-term housing and other long-term reconstruction projects? What is his Department doing to rectify the situation?

Hilary Benn: I acknowledge the point that the hon. Lady makes about the large amount of money that the Disasters Emergency Committee received in response to its appeal and the fact that it takes time in practice to spend it. The real obstacle at the moment, as she will be aware, is not the availability of funding, but the practical steps that need to be taken. All the records were destroyed, so there are arguments and disputes about who owns the land. People cannot decide where to build before land ownership questions are sorted out. There are problems with access to materials and so forth, but we are beginning to see progress in those countries. We continue to support livelihoods in Indonesia, and we are helping the Government to manage the money that is coming in.

One of the most important contributions in Indonesia has been the resolution of the conflict in Aceh, which has created circumstances that are much more conducive to addressing those problems.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): May I press my right hon. Friend on the issue of Sri Lanka? There is still a fear that aid is not reaching the north and north-east of the country. Can my right hon. Friend
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reassure us that both communities in Sri Lanka are benefiting from the aid, and that reconstruction projects are proceeding in all parts of the country?

Hilary Benn: I am well aware of the concern expressed by my hon. Friend and other Members about the situation in Sri Lanka, where, sadly, there has not been the same progress in resolving conflict as there has been in Indonesia. The original agreement between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to govern the terms on which reconstruction took place collapsed, but has now been replaced by the establishment of the north-east provincial council, whose job is to co-ordinate reconstruction efforts in north-east Sri Lanka. One of the practical measures that we have taken is the granting of £1.5 million of additional finance to the council to help its work.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): The right hon. Gentleman will know that I have an interest in this subject. We have corresponded recently on the issue raised by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love). May I stress the urgency of the need for action to ensure that the Tamil people are given the funds that they require to deal with the aftermath of the tsunami? I know that the right hon. Gentleman shares my concern; may I ask him please to address the issue?

Hilary Benn: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will continue to do what we have done since the start of the terrible earthquake and tsunami, which is to encourage and support all the people in Sri Lanka to ensure that help—including money for reconstruction—goes where it is needed. As the hon. Gentleman will be only too well aware, it would help enormously if the parties to the conflict could reach agreement on solving the political problem. That would deal with many of the difficulties about which people have expressed concern.

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): The Government have reneged on their promise to match public donations after the tsunami, providing only £290 million as against the £450 million donated by the generous British public. The vast majority of the Government money consisted of tax relief on public donations, European Union spending and debt relief.

Partly because of broken promises, reconstruction progress has been frustratingly slow. Some 1.5 million people remain without adequate shelter and, as the Secretary of State rightly pointed out, land disputes are numerous as boundary markers and records have been destroyed. What specifically are the Secretary of State and his Department doing to facilitate secure and formal property rights, which are an essential component of economic reconstruction and wealth creation in tsunami-affected areas as elsewhere?

Hilary Benn: The Government made a substantial contribution. Money that goes through the European Union ultimately comes from the taxpayer: I do not accept that it is somehow different in character. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the issue is not really the availability of resources. There is enough money; it is a question of turning it into practical help on the ground.

The principal responsibility for progress on land ownership and property rights rests with the Governments and communities of the countries
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concerned. Only they can sort out the problem. We are encouraging them as best we can, but they are in a position to make the decisions that will, in the end, provide the key to further progress and ensuring that permanent rebuilding can take place so that people are rehoused where they need to be.

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