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UNITAID: An Innovative Poverty Reduction Strategy

Poverty ReductionA global health organization is utilizing innovative financing to generate funding for international development. The organization, called UNITAID, is revolutionizing international development through charitable giving. Funds are currently being generated from a small surcharge added to the cost of flying out of France.

UNITAID is an organization that was originally conceived by French President Jacque Chirac and Brazilian President Lula. It is a World Health Organization global health initiative. Less than a decade ago, an airline levy was implemented through UNITAID, which adds between one and four euro to the cost of plane tickets.

Along with France, eleven other countries have adopted the new practice. In the short amount of time that the surcharge has been enacted, the levy has raised more than $2 billion. Over the course of only eight years, $2.5 billion has been raised, which is being used to improve international development in low-income countries.

More specifically, the money raised has improved access to treatments and diagnostics for HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in less developed countries. For travelers, the small added cost is painless and relatively unnoticeable. The chairman of UNITAID, however, stresses the levy’s importance in the grand scheme of things.

Phillipe Douste-Blazy, the undersecretary-general of the United Nations, chairman of UNITAID, and mastermind behind the ticket surcharge program has stated, “With one euro, you can save children from malaria.” By breaking down the program’s significance into layman’s terms like this, he has painted the bigger picture for us.

The program’s ability to raise such a significant amount of funding in so little time has inspired Douste-Blazy to envision more potential fundraising solutions for other global crises. Namely, the funds could potentially be used to tackle the current migration crisis.

Douste-Blazy knows that disease and lack of health care options are two major factors that force migrants to seek refuge across international borders. An expansion of the current levy could bring dramatic improvements in the standards of living in migrants’ home countries.

A report released recently by the U.N.’s refugee agency revealed that most people fleeing to Europe by sea are attempting to escape conditions like war, persecution and other dangerous conflicts. Europe’s current response to deploying police and soldiers to intercept the migrants isn’t sustainable or cost-effective.

The biggest challenge of international development and poverty reduction strategies is funding. With countries facing significant debt and Greece – the number one recipient of overseas refugees – facing bankruptcy, money can no longer be appropriately allocated in traditional ways.

Douste-Blazy calls his proposed solution “painless solidarity contribution.” The process of taking small additional amounts of money out of existing financial transactions could bring money to the developing world that will not be missed anywhere else.

For the post-2015 agenda, UNITAID’s program offers an important lesson. Douste-Blazy explains, “As the needs are increasing, the money is decreasing, so we need to do something innovative.” Public engagement around the issue of poverty and international development is absolutely essential and can bring unprecedented results.

Sarah Bernard

Sources: Huffington Post, Foreign Policy
Photo: Wikipedia