AIDS activists angry at slow disbursement from Global Fund

COTE D IVOIRE: AIDS activists angry at slow disbursement from Global Fund

ABIDJAN, 11 May 2004 (PLUSNEWS) - AIDS activists are angry that six months after Cote d'Ivoire received a US$91 million grant to fight the disease, not a penny of the money has been spent on actual projects to fight the spread of the HIV virus or help those living with AIDS.

A first tranche of $28 million from the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis was finally made available to the government of Cote d'Ivoire in December last year after being held up by several months of infighting between different ministries over who would get to spend it.

But the representative of one Ivorian non-governmental organisation (NGO) involved in the fight against AIDS complained to IRIN: "Projects have been submitted to the committee that is coordinating how the funds will be spent, but nothing has been done yet."

Anxious not to spoil his organisation's own chances of getting some of the money, he asked that he and his group should not be named.

The representative of another Ivorian AIDS NGO, who was equally unwilling to be named, pointed out that Cote d'Ivoire had also received $2.5 million to fight AIDS from the United States and $760,000 from Belgium over the past year, but this money too had yet to be spent.

"The AIDS epidemic is getting more money that anything else in Cote d'Ivoire, but you can't see its impact on the ground," he complained.

Cyriaque Ako, of the Ivorian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS meanwhile protested that virtually all AIDS-related spending in Cote d'Ivoire went on prevention strategies and very little was done to actually help people living with the disease and prevent them from passing it on.

"For a long time the fight against AIDS in Cote d'Ivoire has been focussed on prevention and has left on the sidelines the people who have already got AIDS and who continue to infect others out of ignorance," he told PlusNews.

Questioned about these criticisms, Clement Kouakou, a spokesman for the Global Fund's programme coordinating committee in Cote d'Ivoire, said everything was still going according to plan.

"We are at the stage of selecting projects. The funds were disbursed (to Cote d'Ivoire) in December 2003. We have had to set ourselves up and we can't go faster than the NGO's and associations will allow us to. By the end of this month at the latest, the NGO's and associations chosen (for funding) will be known," he said.

An official of the Ministry for the Fight against AIDS pointed out that the government had been given two years to spend the money which it had received from the Global Fund. "The committee is doing its job and we think we will achieve the results we have been asked to produce within the 17 months we have left," he told PlusNews.

Cote d'Ivoire, which has been split in two by a civil war which erupted two years ago, is believed to have the highest rate of AIDS infection in West Africa. According to the Ministry of Health, 10 percent of the country's 16 million population is HIV positive.

Several recent indicators suggest that the situation is growing worse.

Christine Nebou Adjobi, the Minister for AIDS, said recently that a study by Retrovirus Cote d'Ivoire showed that 14 percent of all pregrant women in the country were HIV positive. She also revealed that young people aged betwen 15 and 24 accounted for 68 percent of all new infections recorded.

Delivering a speech in the official capital Yamoussoukro, 260 km north of Abidjan, Adjobi also revealed that five teachers a week were dying from AIDS in Cote d'Ivoire - about 250 per year.

An official of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Cote d'Ivoire drew attention to the high risk of HIV infection faced by hundreds of thousands of people who had been displaced from their homes by the civil war. For nearly two years rebel forces have controlled the northern half of the country.

He also complained that AIDS was still viewed socially as a shameful illness which people were unwilling to own up to and talk about it publicly. He pointed out that in Uganda, HIV infection rates had only started to go down when people living with AIDS began indentifying themselves publicly and giving advice to the rest of the population.

But Alain Manouan, the programme director of UNAIDS in Cote d'Ivoire, was more upbeat. He said public awareness campaigns had led to more and more people volunteering to be tested for HIV and this process was pushing up the numbers who were known to be HIV positive.

According to the Ministry of Health, 30,000 Ivorians have tested positive for HIV so far this year. Officials declined to say how many people had tested negative for the virus, which eventually leads to the onset of AIDS-related diseases.


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