Airline tax to help 250,000 children with AIDS, TB: French FM

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French Foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy speaks during the presentation of the humanitarian action campaign Unitaid in Paris, June 2006.

GENEVA (AFP) - The first beneficiaries of an international tax on air travel to help the world's poor will be 250,000 children suffering from HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said.

Douste-Blazy, who was appointed to head the agency overseeing the funds, UNITAID, said 19 countries have started taking steps to implement the levy.

It is expected to raise about 50 million euros (63 million dollars) this year and 300 million euros in 2007, he said.

"I can confirm that I am determined to launch very rapidly the first action by UNITAID," Douste-Blazy told journalists.

The first operation will involve supplying special medicines to about 100,000 children suffering from HIV/AIDS and 150,000 with tuberculosis late next year, he said.

In France, the tax championed by President Jacques Chirac adds a surcharge of between one and 40 euros (1.25 and 50 dollars) to an airline ticket, depending on the destination and class of seat.

Countries that have signed up to the initiative include Brazil, Britain, Chile, Cyprus, Congo, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mauritius, Norway, South Korea

The Geneva-based World Health Organisation is also involved in the venture, which is aimed primarily at medical projects.

The United States, Canada and Germany have opposed the levy. Several airlines have complained that it will add to the cost of air travel.

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