Two converging global developments could have a massive impact on the future health of people in developing countries, whose populations are heavily affected by tuberculosis (TB). TB is a disease that still takes the lives of 4,000 people every day. One could result in catastrophe, with 1.7 million people dying over the next five years because treatment is unavailable. The other has the potential to prevent this disaster.
The first development is that many donor governments, which were hit hard by the financial crisis, are now contributing significantly less to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which provides 80 percent of all external funding for TB. The result has been the cancellation of the Fund's last round of grants to countries affected by TB and trimming of funds from earlier rounds.
The Stop TB Partnership and World Health Organization have projected that as a result, available funding for TB care will be US$ 1.7 billion less than anticipated over the next five years. Consequently, a projected 3.4 million fewer TB patients will receive life-saving treatment.
The second development is the rally in some European countries, notably France and Germany, behind the creation of a financial-transaction tax which is a wide-ranging tax on trading of stocks, bonds, derivatives and other financial contracts. At present, discussions are mainly around the funds generated by this tax to be used for national debt reduction.
Realistically, an EU-wide agreement is unlikely in the immediate future. Some European countries, however, seem to be moving towards an alternative cooperation project, which means they would voluntarily sign an agreement on a common system of financial-transaction tax. This type of "enhanced cooperation" has already been used to overcome difficulties in harmonizing some aspects of cross-border divorce law, for example.
It's a good plan that would secure national debt relief for the nine countries. Should this objective be realized, I have a proposal.
What if a sensible fraction of those funds were dedicated to global health and development with a dedicated sum to, at least partially, fill the Global Fund's impending gap? The Robin Hood Tax campaign has proposed that 50 percent of revenues go towards domestic projects, 25 percent address climate change, and 25 percent tackle global issues. If these countries' aim on the last item is to fill the global health till so as to promote growth in the developing world - as it should be - they should ensure adequate access to proper TB care.
For the developing and emerging economies in Africa, Asia and Latin America, TB represents both a humanitarian crisis and a limiting factor to growth. TB mainly affects young adults who should be in their most productive years and shaping their countries' futures. Tuberculosis is widely viewed as a disease of the poor, however, it also affects individuals who earn good incomes. Breadwinners who become ill with TB are often too sick to work for weeks or months therefore, they and their families may face financial catastrophe.
Thus, tuberculosis is cruelly challenging, and efforts by developing countries to improve the health and well being of their citizens is acting as a rate-limiting step to economic growth.
We have good evidence that not addressing TB is more expensive than getting people treated. A 2009 World Bank research report showed that countries, heavily burdened by TB, could recoup nine to 15 times their investments in TB control. For example, India, which has a heavy burden of tuberculosis but is striving to address it, can realize a return of $125 for every dollar invested in controlling the disease.
The financial-transaction tax has been held up to great scrutiny in Europe and many in the financial world are dead set against this tax. But one has to wonder why. It functions well in some of the world's most dynamic economies, including Brazil, South Korea and India. And we are talking about a very small fraction, 0.05 to 0.1 percent ,of the cost of transactions. The European Commission estimates that the negative effect of the tax on GDP would be in the vicinity of only 0.1 percent, but what a difference those revenues could make for strengthening Europe's finances and funding solutions for poverty and diseases affecting the impoverished like TB
A financial-transaction tax, in the nine European countries considering the cooperation project, would generate about 240 million Euros in just four days. This sum could pay for curative treatment, which costs just 19 Euros per day, for every person who will become sick with TB over the next year. This would make a difference!