by Peter Orengo
Fundraiser UNITAID has collected an estimated Sh90 billion since 2006 for treatment of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, mainly from a small levy on airline tickets sold in 34 countries.
"With the current financial crisis, it is going to be very difficult to achieve the MDGs through official Government aid, so innovative methods of financing the fight against these diseases must be sought," said Philippe Douste-Blazy, chair of UNITAID and a UN special advisor on innovative development financing at a meeting in Nairobi.
A World Bank report in April projected the global economic downturn could put the treatment of more than 1.7 million people in the developing world at risk by the end of this year through drug shortages.
According to Douste-Blazy, the airline levy gives participating developing nations an opportunity to contribute to treatment in their countries rather than depending on handouts from the developed world.
Public Health Minister Beth Mugo told delegates it was time African governments played a bigger role in health financing.
"We need long-term financing for health and we must put pressure on our leaders to implement their Abuja pledge to dedicate 15 per cent of the budget to health," she said.
"Few are doing so. In Kenya for example, only seven per cent of our national budget is spent on health," she added.
Cote dâIvoire, Niger, Madagascar and Mauritius are applying the airline levy, while Benin, Burkina Faso and Kenya have said they will introduce it.
The levy ranges from US$1 to $2 on economy-class tickets and up to $40 on business- and first-class fares. The funds are channeled through NGOs like the Clinton HIV and Aids Initiative, which has used the money to put 170,000 children in 38 countries on antiretroviral drugs.