Activists fret as flagship AIDS fund weighs future
GENEVA (Reuters) - Treatment for people suffering AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria would be threatened if new grants are not handed out by the Global Fund set up to tackle the diseases, activists said on Thursday.
The Global Fund, launched four years ago with the backing of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, has already approved grants worth $5 billion with donations mainly from Europe, the United States and Japan.
But its governing board convened a two-day meeting on Thursday to decide whether to solicit more programs or limit its scope to the 350 projects under way. A decision is due on Friday.
Unlike more established institutions like the World Bank, the Global Fund has struggled to win long-term financial backing and some observers worry the board may delay launching a new set of grants due to the $1 billion new projects could need by the end of the year.
Development charity ActionAid said failure to announce a new round of grants would "fatally stall" a Group of Eight nations' goal of ensuring universal access to HIV drug treatment by 2010.
"Money has to start flowing in significant quantities now, otherwise all commitments will fail," it said in a statement.
The three diseases kill more than 6 million people a year.
Carol Jacobs, chairwoman of the Global Fund's board, said it was important to keep scaling up activities if international targets on HIV drug access, malaria treatment and tuberculosis control were to be reached.
"We really cannot put a cap on what our resources are," she told Reuters, adding the Global Fund could easily double its activities in coming years because of huge needs.
"It can only grow and I think it must only grow," said Jacobs, a medical doctor who heads Barbados' National HIV/AIDS Commission.
FUELED A MOMENTUM
The Global AIDS Alliance said it would be a mistake for the board -- made up of donor governments, recipient countries, health advocates and the private sector -- to delay new funding.
"Until now, the steady development and scaling up to meet challenges has fueled a momentum that will be lost if round six is not launched," the U.S.-based activist group said.
Most initiatives financed by the Global Fund are long-term in nature, such as programs providing life-saving medicines to those who would not otherwise be able to afford them.
While all programs currently supported by the agency are now fully funded, its initial five-year grants run out soon and will require substantial funds to be continued.
Christoph Benn, the Global Fund's external relations director, said it was unthinkable to end support to the more than 1 million people on antiretrovirals and other treatments whose interruption can cause drug resistance and death.
"Once you put people on treatment, you have to maintain people on treatment," Benn said, adding there were also moral problems in keeping the Global Fund's scope at its current size and not expanding drug access to others in need.
"You can't say, okay, we've made a small step and that's it, we'll just maintain those who were lucky enough to get on treatment in the first rounds," he said.
"We have to continue to give this momentum. We owe it to the people who otherwise would die."