How Airline Tickets and Oil Barrels Can End Extreme Poverty

06/23/2015 09:15 am ET | Updated Jun 23, 2016

Every time 1 person flies out of Paris on a plane, they save three children with Malaria. How is this possible? The answer is UNITAID. UNITAID is a global health organization that utilizes innovative financing to increase funding for international development, more specifically; greater access to treatments and diagnostics for HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in low-income countries. Innovative finance is a form of financing that involves shaving small amounts off targeted financial transactions. Effectively, it's a tax targeted for health, education, nutrition and other development needs.

So how does innovative financing actually work? For flights flying out of France and 10 other countries, there is a 1€ levy on the cost of the tickets benefitting UNITAID. Which means every traveler buying these tickets is donating 1€ to the UNITAID fund. The tax has virtually no effect on the consumer and no negative effect on airline ticket sales. Using this strategy, UNITAID has raised over $2.5 billion in only eight years. Because of UNITAID 8 out of 10 children are receiving proper medical treatment for HIV (700,000 are being treated now as opposed to 10,000 in 2006). The UNITAID money also ensured 351 million treatments of malaria and similar treatment action against children with Tuberculosis.

UNITAID was conceived by French President Jacques Chirac and Brazilian President Lula. The organization is chaired by Philippe Douste-Blazy, former Foreign Minister under President Nicolas Sarkozy and current Under-Secretary General of the United Nations. Philippe Douste-Blazy and President Sarkozy have been instrumental in supporting UNITAID and as a consequence, France is now the largest donor to UNITAID. The air ticket levy alone has collected over 1 billion Euros in France since it was implemented in 2006.

According to President Clinton, France has completely revolutionized charitable giving for the world through UNITAID, calling it a "priceless gift" that has saved millions of lives. It has also proved that small contributions from global citizens can make a difference.

In March 2012, President Sarkozy passed a law to implement another innovative finance mechanism, called the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT). A FTT is a small tax on every trade of stocks, bonds and other financial instruments, which if implemented by high-income countries can raise significant revenues for international development. Much like the 1€ levy on air flights, a FTT is negligible for the majority of individuals and institutions. President François Hollande has already doubled the tax and an additional 10 countries have committed to implement the FTT. That said, France is the only country that is committing funds from the FTT to fight global poverty.

In September 2014, UNITAID announced the launch of its newest innovative financing initiative; UNITLIFE, a levy on extractive resources, particularly oil. Denis Sassou Ngeusso, the President of the Republic of Congo, announced that Congo is going to give 10 cents for every barrel of oil in his country. If eight African countries agree to the tax, the oil levy is expected to raise $100-$200 million per year. This money will be funneled specifically to combat chronic malnutrition prevention, the leading risk factor for death among children in Africa.

The biggest challenge of international development and ending extreme poverty is funding. Achieving the MDGs isn't just about will power, it's about financial investment; healthcare, schools, technology, etc. all cost money. Without the follow through on financial commitments promised by governments, the MDGs will not be achieved and the reality is they aren't going to be achieved. But there is a lesson to be learned here, in the post 2015 agenda, and that is that public engagement around this issues is important.

There is a way for you, as an individual, to get involved in this dialogue. Global Citizens are running a campaign encouraging countries committed to implementing the FTT to follow France's lead and commit 30 percent of this tax to development and poverty reduction efforts. To lend your voice to the campaign and encourage European Finance Ministers to commit to the cause, visit:
Global Citizen.

Concluding our conversation, Philippe's discussion of innovative financing and UNITAID came to a very clear point. While it is the responsibility of governments to approve these policies, it is the responsibility of global citizens to put pressure on governments to pay attention to these policies because as Philippe has explained to us, and as UNITAID has proven to us, they work.