Meeting for the first time with high-level authorities in President Francois Hollande's new government, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé said that he looked forward to a continued and fruitful partnership between the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and France. He congratulated French leaders - past and present - for the country's longstanding commitment to the global HIV response and its support to key areas such as access to treatment, human rights and addressing social inequalities.
“I am encouraged by President Hollande's vision for the global HIV response based on social justice and shared responsibility,” said Mr Sidibé, in meetings with officials in Paris from 5-6 July.
In consultations with three top French officials - the Minister of Social Affairs and Health, Ms Marisol Touraine, the Minister of Development, Mr Pascal Canfin, and a diplomatic advisor to the President of the Republic, Mr Paul Jean-Ortiz - Mr Sidibé praised French leadership for the country's important and ongoing contributions to innovative financing mechanisms in support of global health.
In 2006, the French government played an instrumental role in creating UNITAID, a multi-lateral organization that seeks to expand access to HIV, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria medicines in low- and middle-income countries. Through a levy on airline tickets, UNITAID has funded HIV treatment for hundreds of thousands of people living with HIV, largely in Africa. France finances nearly 60% of the organization's annual budget.
France also played a key role in the establishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, a leading funding body for HIV, TB and malaria programmes. Since its creation in 2002, programs supported by the Global Fund have provided AIDS treatment for 3.3 million people. France is the second largest donor to the Global Fund.
Financial transaction tax
During his meetings, Mr Sidibé praised France's leadership for the recent decision to introduce a financial transaction tax. “Now we must convince world leaders to adopt a similar measure, and to earmark a portion of the funds raised for global health and development,” said Mr Sidibé. “UNAIDS counts on French leaders to help us move forward this important agenda,” he added.
Mr Sidibé noted that a financial transaction tax - if implemented widely - could go a long way toward closing Africa's HIV funding gap, estimated at US $3-4 billion annually. A modest tax of just 0.01% on financial transactions could generate billions of dollars in revenue among G20 countries without increasing the financial burden on their economies, he said.
Critical role of civil society
While in France, Mr Sidibé met with Jean-Luc Romero, President of the non-profit AIDS organization CRIPS and head of an association of Local Elected Officials against AIDS. He noted, in the meeting, that the AIDS response has benefited significantly from the vision and activism of civil society. “Without the engagement of civil society, progress would not have been possible,” said Mr Sidibé.