TOGO: End of grant causes concern
LOME, 9 November 2006 (PlusNews) - Togolese nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) have warned that the end of a grant by the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria could put at least 24,000 HIV-infected people at risk.
"It's a complete disaster - we're distraught," said Augustin Dokla, president of the main network of NGOs for HIV-positive people in Togo. "Some 18,000 people are waiting for drugs and 6,000 patients will be at risk within two years. No ... treatments [for new patients] are available as of today."
The Global Fund, the main donor of antiretroviral (ARV) treatment in Togo, halted one of two three-year HIV grants amounting to US$15.5 million in January 2006, citing "irregularities" in the information provided by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on managing the money.
"The Global Fund has said that it would not renew this grant because of the quality of the data provided," Rosine Coulibaly, the UNDP resident representative in the capital, Lome, told IRIN/PlusNews. The UNDP was appointed principal recipient of the Fund's comprehensive HIV/AIDS programme grant, which focused on prevention and treatment services in 2003.
Coulibaly said a financial audit early this year showed "no mistakes coming from the agency". The Fund, however, had indicated that a gap of 20 percent between the progress indicators and the results went beyond the accepted difference of five percent.
"Nothing dramatic has been revealed, but it seems that the Fund provided wrong data at the start of the programme," she said. "It should not affect people in need of assistance."
"The results of the first period were not good and [the period] ended in September - before we could sign the renewal of the grant and the launch of the second phase," said a source at the Global Fund's headquarters in Geneva. Some $11.5 million has been released so far, but $14.2 million was initially planned.
"Togo may have access to the continuation of the services and treatments during two years, and the Fund will work with the authorities in order to get more financial partners on board," said the source, who requested anonymity. He said no newly infected patients would be accepted.
The Fund provides ARV treatment to some 3,500 patients, international and local NGOs take care of another 3,000 patients, but 18,000 HIV-infected people are still in need of the life-prolonging medication.
Activists warned that most HIV/AIDS support programmes in Togo were now at risk, as the Global Fund was the main donor. "No funds came in since January 2006 - we had to halt most of the Global Fund-funded programmes this year," said Marc Mondji, whose NGO, the Action Committee for International Cooperation and Youth Blossoming (CACIEJ), provides treatment to orphans and people living with HIV/AIDS.
He said that there were fewer programmes providing nutritional assistance, support, testing and counselling, as financial resources were running low, and initiatives like the recently opened HIV/AIDS telephone hotlines closed this year because of a critical lack of money.
"Our main concern now is how to supply food, assistance and ARV treatment to people living with AIDS. We receive new patients in need of treatment every day," Mondji said.
With a gross domestic product of around $310 per capita, and decreasing foreign aid over the last 10 years, Togo has little capacity to counter the HIV/AIDS epidemic on its own.
The government gives $291,000 per year to the fight against AIDS but this is a small contribution compared to the West African country's needs, Mondji said.
The national HIV prevalence rate is estimated at six percent in a population of 4.5 million, with some regions reaching 8.2 percent prevalence in specific population groups, the UNDP found.
According to the Global Fund, Togo would not benefit from new grants in the sixth round of 85 grants to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria - totalling $847 million - approved in Guatemala City last week, but the country could have a chance in the seventh round, expected within four months, and also in the following rounds.