A new funding program called UNITAID will help poor countries fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria through the taxing of air tickets, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said on Monday.
So far 19 governments have committed themselves to this program, which means to levy a tax on airline tickets to fund provision of cheaper drugs to poor countries fighting those diseases, according to Douste-Blazy, who heads the program.
The program, which was launched last month and based in the World Health Organization in Geneva, brings together countries, UN agencies, international organizations and others to tackle some of the world's worst diseases.
Besides France, the other 18 countries committed to the program include Brazil, Britain, Chile, Cambodia, Cameroon, Congo, Cyprus, Gabon, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Norway and South Korea.
So far France, Brazil, Chile and Gabon have started to levy the tax, with several others to follow by early next year.
In France, the tax amounts to one euro (about 1.26 U.S. dollars) a ticket on a domestic or European economy class flight and four euros on a business or first class seat. These figures are multiplied by four for transcontinental journeys.
Through taxing air tickets, it is expected to raise about 50 million euros (about 63 million U.S. dollars) this year and 300 million euros (about 378 million U.S. dollars) in 2007, Douste- Blazy told a press conference.
He said the money would be used to supply special medicines to about 100,000 children suffering from HIV/AIDS and 150,000 with tuberculosis late next year.
Airlines, including France's national carrier Air France, have claimed that the tax will hurt business and tourism.
But Douste-Blazy said he did "not believe for a single moment that fewer tickets would be sold because you pay (one euro) more."
Levying taxes on air transport is a way to redistribute the benefits of globalization and to secure long-term funding, he said, adding the new multi-country system was "revolutionary" and an example of "world citizens" supporting each other.
He also called for more countries to join the program. "There must and can be many more of us," he said.
(Xinhua News Agency October 10, 2006)