JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - Doctors are being forced to turn away people with HIV/AIDS - meaning they will fall ill and almost certainly die - in eight African countries as donors cut funding amid the global economic meltdown, an aid group said Thursday.
Doctors Without Borders called on rich countries to fulfill their obligations to poorer nations, saying the funding cuts threaten to unravel years of progress on the continent hardest hit by AIDS.
The group's study looked at AIDS programs in Congo, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe and found the effects of funding cuts widespread.
In Kenya, clinics fear running out of money. Health policymakers in Mozambique and Uganda say they can't afford to follow international standards for when treatment should be started.
Eric Goemaere, medical coordinator in South Africa for Doctors Without Borders, said donors were citing the recession as a reason for cutbacks. But he said that was no excuse for backing off on commitments to step up the fight against AIDS.
Margie Hardman, founder of a clinic in a poor area of eastern South Africa that cares for some 2,000 AIDS patients, said U.S.-funded donors had told her to stop enrolling new patients.
"We had to turn these patients away and refer them to local government hospitals or clinics," Hardman said.
Doctors Without Borders found that in other countries, people were turned away because the clinics did not have enough medication.
Doctors Without Borders said the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria - a major, independent supporter of AIDS programs around the world - was under pressure from the wealthy governments that fund it to cut back. The fund's budget for the next three years will be determined at meetings in October.
Stefan Emblad, who coordinates fund-raising for the Global Fund, said even if the Global Fund gets maximum funding at the October meetings, the world would still be far from the goal of providing AIDS drugs to everyone who needs them. "That's the sad truth of the situation," he said.
Eric Goosby, head of PEPFAR, the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, said in a statement that the budget had increased, but marginally, from $6.8 billion in 2010 to "nearly" $7 billion for 2011.
"At the same time, HIV/AIDS is a global responsibility," he said, "and the U.S. is actively engaging with other donors around creating a response that is truly global."