U.N. asks fliers to help fight AIDS

UNITED NATIONS — With a simple click, U.S. travelers buying airline tickets via some travel agencies and Internet sites can now donate $2 or more to fight AIDS in developing countries.

The United Nations and former President Bill Clinton launched the donation effort last week called MassiveGood. It aims to supply low-cost drugs for the developing world, helping medical workers and health officials fight HIV and AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis and improve maternal and children's health.

Major ticket distributors Amadeus, Travelport and Sabre Holdings Corp. and corporate buyers such as American Express Business Travel and Carlson Wagonlit Travel will offer the donation option to the companies that buy travel through them. The software to process the donations was developed by Amadeus.

Travelers will see the donation option when it's offered by ticket sellers like Travelocity and some travel agents.

The option will show up like any other choice in buying a ticket, along with adding a car rental or hotel. Tickets sold directly through airline Web sites aren't part of the program.

"I think this will catch on all over the world. And this is basically an institutionalized version of what we saw happen after the Haiti earthquake, where people were texting in $10, or $5 in Canada, in the automatic systems," Clinton said. "These systems, I predict, will empower ordinary people to change the future of the world in ways that we can only begin to imagine."

The money goes to the Geneva-based Millennium Foundation, founded in 2008 to find innovative ways to finance U.N. health goals, and the U.N.-funded UNITAID, an international facility for purchasing medicines hosted by the World Health Organization, also in Geneva.

Some of the money also will go to the Clinton Health Access Initiative and others who provide treatments in poor countries.

Giving what the group calls a "micro-contribution" is optional for everyone involved. The idea for it was raised by Philippe Douste-Blazy, a cardiologist and former French foreign minister.

Douste-Blazy, who chairs the Millennium Foundation and UNITAID, and is the special financing adviser for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said it builds on the 2006 "microtax" on airplane tickets that 16 nations adopted to help raise more than $1 billion.

"Hundreds of thousands of women, children and men will be able to access the most precious of human rights, the right to health care," Douste-Blazy said, calling the donation effort a "great citizen movement around the world."

Ban called it a simple idea that would be expanded to European nations, then elsewhere. "We hope MassiveGood will be become a truly global phenomenon," he said.