AIDS: Activists Lobby for "Robin Hood" Levy

Now is the time to push for a micro-tax on all financial transactions to fund HIV prevention and care throughout the world, activists said this week at the 18th International AIDS Conference in Vienna.

The so-called "Robin Hood" tax of 0.005 percent would generate $33 billion annually worldwide, said Khalil Elouardighi of Coalition PLUS, an assembly of HIV advocacy groups.

"It acts like an invisible micro-withdrawal. Knowing that 97 percent of transactions are of a speculative nature, there will be no consequence on the real economy," noted Philippe Douste-Blazy, UN undersecretary-general for innovative financing for development.

One challenge is to ensure that receipts from such a tax are funneled to HIV/AIDS and not diverted to other needs, said Douste-Blazy, a former French foreign minister.

Douste-Blazy also serves as chair of UNITAID, a World Health Organization enterprise dedicated to expanding treatment for HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. France and 11 other countries have implemented a UNITAID funding mechanism in which a small tax on airline tickets helps to pay for treatment of HIV-positive pregnant women.

Countries adopting a micro-tax assessment would not be immune from existing donor obligations, said Christoph Benn of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

"We are not taking away any pressure from governments to provide additional resources from their development budgets: that is a given, that is our first request, that they increase their contributions," Benn said.

Activists feel this is the right time to advocate for the tax, given the upcoming Millennium Development Goals meeting in September and a G-20 gathering in November.