India has been invited to be a donor member of U.N.'s health care body UNITAID

To improve healthcare of millions of people in developing countries, an invitation has been extended to India by UNITAID — a United Nations body — to join it as a donor member.

The bulk of UNITAID's resources come from a small levy on airline tickets in several countries, while the rest is provided primarily by multi-year contributions from governments. This long-term and predictable stream of funding allows UNITAID to provide incentives for manufacturers to supply quality public health products at a reduced price and bring new formulations to the market.

Denis Broun, UNITAID executive director, met Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh recently in this connection. “I am aware this is not the best time in India as the economy of the sector is not good,” Mr. Broun told The Hindu.

However, a nominal Rs. 10-20 tax per ticket would not impact the traveller adversely but the resources generated would be huge given the sheer number of air travellers in India, he pointed out. “India joining the UNITAID group would be more as a signal of solidarity as it has taken such an important place in the global health scenario,” he added.

UNITAID's interest in India also stems from the fact that the latter is a huge producer of affordable generic drugs that are helping millions of people world over in HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria treatment. Mr. Broun's first meting will be followed up on a monthly basis.

UNITAID was established in 2006 by the governments of Brazil, Chile, France, Norway and the United Kingdom. Today it is backed by a formidable “North-South” membership, including Cyprus, Korea, Luxembourg, Spain and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation alongside Cameroon, Congo, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius and Niger.

UNITAID raised 60 per cent of its funds in 2011 through a levy on air tickets — an example of innovative financing in today's challenging environment. Nine countries have implemented the air ticket levy: Cameroon, Chile, Congo, France, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Niger and the Republic of Korea. Norway allocates part of its tax on carbon dioxide emissions.

The air ticket levy can range from $ 1 for economy-class tickets to $ 40 for business and first-class travel. Passengers in transit are exempt and countries themselves can decide what rate and ticket class they would like to include.

The air ticket levy is implemented through the adoption of a law or decree. The levy is simply added to an existing airport tax, with all or some of the funds going to UNITAID.

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