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Global Fund
suspends millions of dollars in grants to Uganda

Global Fund
suspends millions of dollars in grants to Uganda

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria on Wednesday halted millions of dollars in AIDS funding for Uganda, a nation usually praised for its fight against HIV, saying it had found evidence of mismanagement in distributing the money. The Global Fund said its auditors had serious concerns about the operations of the special agency set up by the Ugandan government to handle cash disbursed by the organization. Although there was no clear indication of corruption or fraud, there was evidence of "inappropriate expenditure and improper accounting," the Geneva-based body said.

"The Global Fund has decided to suspend its five grants to Uganda because there is evidence of serious mismanagement by the Project Management Unit," it said in reference to the Ugandan government agency.

But the fund stressed the suspension would not affect the supply of drugs and other vital assistance to AIDS patients, which could be monitored directly from Geneva. "All necessary measures will be taken to ensure that life-saving treatment as well as prevention activities such as condom procurement will not be disrupted," the group said.

Ugandan health minister Jim Muhwezi told Reuters in Kampala that the Global Fund's fears were based on a small amount of missing paperwork from nongovernmental organizations running health programs in remote corners of the country. "When you suspend all grants because there is no document from some small group, it is really not fair on the country, or the people who gave the money," he said.

The fund has given Uganda until October 14 to present reforms for all grant-funded programs. The suspension would initially last for two months, during which time the fund was asking the Ugandan authorities to set up a fresh system for handling funds that excluded the PMU.

One Ugandan AIDS activist, retired major Rubaramira Ruranga, executive director of the National Guidance and Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, said civil society groups could handle health funds better than government. "With this corrupt Uganda as we know it, a lot is really desired in the management of such resources," he told a Ugandan radio station. "But I do believe the Global Fund will not punish individual Ugandans because of this failure."

So far Uganda has received some $45 million out of $201 million earmarked for the country by the fund over two years.

Uganda has made AIDS a top policy priority and has been held up as an example to other African countries after a government education campaign cut HIV infection rates to around 6%, from as high as 30% in the early 1990s. (Reuters)

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