Bowing partially to pressure from the United States, the board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria on Thursday voted to begin accepting applications for a fifth round of grants in March, five months later than had been initially hoped. The Bush administration was urging Global Fund leaders to adopt a six- to 12-month delay because of funding shortfalls at the agency that could have limited the amount of money available to disburse through new grants. The 19-member board voted unanimously to delay accepting new grant proposals. The agency will need approximately $2.4 billion in 2005 to carry out its work for the year. So far, the fund has secured only about $1.6 billion from donors for the year.
"The board is proud to announce the fifth round of funding that will deliver continued assistance in the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria," said U.S. Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson, who chairs the fund's board. "Today's unanimous decision reflects the unwavering commitment to turning the tide against these diseases and ensuring logistical viability of the fund." Jack Valenti, president of the Global Fund advocacy group Friends of the Global Fight, said the board's decision "demonstrates why the Global Fund works. Everyone agreed to the principles of fiscal prudence. Everyone agreed on the need for urgent new money. Everyone agreed to a need to focus on making current grants work. The decision also means the Global Fund needs more money in 2005, and all donors, including the U.S., need to step up to the plate and follow through on today's decisions."
Meanwhile in Washington, two congressional subcommittees responsible for allocating U.S. funds to the Global Fund on Thursday voted to cut the U.S. pledge to the organization for 2005 to $350 million, almost $200 million less than in 2004. Many AIDS activists say the cut in U.S. donations to the fund coupled with the push by the Bush administration to delay new grants suggests U.S. leaders aren't committed to the international AIDS agency. "This is a horrible confirmation of our fears of what the second Bush administration will bring," said Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance. Gregg Gonsalves of Gay Men's Health Crisis said the congressional vote proves the U.S. government "has it in for the Global Fund. My sense is that the U.S. is trying to kill it."
AIDS activists and HIV-positive people around the world on Thursday condemned the Bush administration's efforts to persuade the Global Fund's board to delay issuing new funding grants, saying the delay will worsen AIDS epidemics in countries hit hard by the disease and could suggest to Western nations that new donations to the fund aren't immediately needed. The U.S. proposal "will lead to the loss of countless numbers of lives and to thousands of new infections," according to a press release issued Thursday by more than 40 international AIDS activists. "While we recognize there have been some problems in the disbursement of grants and implementation of programs through the Global Fund, this is not an excuse for suspending new grants to countries that desperately need this support."
The press release was signed by AIDS activists and organizations in Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Jamaica, Kenya, Moldova, Morocco, Namibia, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Uganda, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Zimbabwe.
Some critics of the Bush administration also say the U.S. is attempting to deemphasize the Global Fund in favor of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which stresses abstinence education and uses only expensive brand-name antiretroviral drugs. Programs supported by the Global Fund can purchase cheaper generic anti-HIV medications.