UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Tuesday urged donors to maintain contributions to a major international fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria despite the global economic downturn, saying it has saved millions of lives.
"At this time of economic crisis I say to you that spending on AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria is a smart investment, it is a true recovery package," he said in a video message played at the start of a two-day meeting in Spain of key donors to the Global Fund.
"The Global Fund has saved millions of lives and it has shown that we can beat these diseases. It is important that we replenish it," he said, adding it "helps parents, workers and teachers stay alive and productive".
"I urge you to ensure it is fully funded," he said.
The donors meeting in the eastern city of Caceres is seeking to find ways to plug the fund's expected budget deficit of four billion dollars (three billion euros) for the 2008-10 period.
Members of the fund, which is financed by contributions from donor nations, corporations, private foundations and a few individuals, meet every two years to discuss their biennial donations. The last meeting was held in Berlin in 2007.
Malaria cost Africa 12 billion dollars a year, but just 3.4 billion dollars is needed annually for prevention and treatment, said Ban.
Tuberculosis cost the world's poorest communities 16 billion dollars a year but containing it would cost just 4.2 billion dollars a year, he added.
No donor nation has indicated it intends to decrease its contributions to the fund, Spain's Secretary of State for Development and Cooperation Soraya Rodriguez told AFP.
Spain and France, meanwhile, will boost their contributions, she added, without giving further details.
The Global Fund was created in January 2002 from a suggestion by the then UN secretary general Kofi Annan to channel new money into local projects in poor nations.
Since then, the administratively autonomous fund has become the dominant source of money for worldwide programmes against the three scourges that kill more than six million people a year, mostly in poor countries.
As of the end of 2008, the fund estimates the programmes it has supported have averted more than 3.5 million deaths by providing AIDS treatment for two million people, anti-tuberculosis treatment for 4.6 million and 70 million insecticide-treated bed nets for the prevention of malaria worldwide.
The Global Fund has so far approved funding in 140 countries worth 15 billion dollars.
The United States is the Global Fund's largest single donor, although European Union member states together contribute more than half of its resources with France being the second largest donor overall.