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AFRICA: Donation drought at Global Fund replenishment conference

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

JOHANNESBURG, 9 September (PLUSNEWS) - As the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria ended its first replenishment conference this week, the uncertainty under which the Fund operates has once again become a cause for concern among activists.

International donors on Tuesday pledged US $3.7 billion to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria - slightly more than half the $7.1 billion needed for the next two years.

The Global Fund met donors to discuss funding needs at a replenishment meeting held in London, England. This was the first time the body had attempted the process, seen as a way of making donor contributions more systematic and allowing the Fund more planning for future grants, Global Fund communications officer Rosie Vanek told PlusNews.

Although "there was still a way to go" before reaching the $7.1 billion target, the funds pledged this week were a "positive sign," she said.

In a statement UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the pledges made at the conference "will go a long way towards ensuring the longer-term sustainability of the Global Fund" and "will help countries establish comprehensive programmes to fight AIDS, TB and malaria".

According to the statement, the amount pledged did not include "expected future pledges from a number of major donors, which signalled that their budget procedures prevent firm pledges for the full two-year period". Another replenishment conference will be held in June 2006.

Hailed as a "quantum leap" in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the Fund has become a focal point for funding efforts to bring the epidemic to heel. But the four-year-old Fund remains under-resourced, and activists maintain that the money currently made available by wealthy nations is inadequate.

"Where is the urgency among major donors? We are disappointed that they have not used this opportunity to take a robust approach to making the G8's historic promise of ensuring universal access to HIV treatment a reality by 2010," said ActionAid Policy Officer Felicity Daly.

"Specifically, the US [United States] has not come to the table with the one-third of funding [for the Fund's total budget]," she told PlusNews.

On previous occasions the US has committed to funding one-third of the Global Fund, but it has pledged just $600 million for the next two years, which means the target might not be reached.

Pledges by other major donors were also a "pathetic amount", Daly added.

According to Leonard Okello, ActionAid's International HIV/AIDS Coordinator, the funding shortfall sent a "worrying signal" to the hardest-hit sub-Saharan countries, because "whether we like it or not, the response is still under-resourced".

"This could mean that funding will remain the same, or donors are getting worn out and no longer see [HIV/AIDS] as a global problem," he speculated.

In view of the large amounts of money being channelled into HIV/AIDS programmes, donors were faced with difficult decisions as to where and how to allocate their money, said Prof Tim Quinlan, research director at the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division (HEARD) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

A source of frustration among donors and recipients was the slow pace of distributing Global Fund grants, as the control procedures were slowing down the process.

Money was not the problem; the capacity of African countries to spend the financial resources was now the major challenge, as governments were still in a transition stage, he pointed out.

Okello admitted that the Global Fund was "not perfect", but had proved to be a useful funding mechanism. "It is such a pity that at a time when the Global Fund is focusing on building these capacities, the development partners are not coming forward."

Donors could not use the example of Uganda as an excuse for not supporting the Fund, he warned. Last month the Global Fund announced a suspension of all its grants to Uganda after "evidence of serious mismanagement" of the funds.

Okello commented: "This sluggishness with funding didn't start with Uganda yesterday - this epidemic has been here for 20 years. If governments had demonstrated their political commitment from the beginning, the pandemic wouldn't be so far ahead of the response."

Nevertheless, it was now time for African countries "to sit up straight and get a bigger slice of national budgets to fund AIDS".

"The reality is that whatever little we get from donors - Global Fund, PEPFAR or bilateral, we need to manage the money with efficiency, transparency and the integrity it deserves, and start rooting out corruption in AIDS governance," Okello said.


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