Rain on HIV Parade

politics hiv/aids infections treatment
Monday, 5 December, 2011 - 16:24

The ongoing global economic downturn, reduced funding to the Global Fund Against AIDS, the closure of organisations relying on this Fund to deliver HIV/AIDS programmes, threatens to  reverse the gains made by South Africa in intensifying the fight against AIDS

The ‘World Aids Report’ released by the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) last week suggested that there are enough reasons for the world to celebrate the World AIDS Day.

The HIV infection rates for 2010 have come down by a remarkable 21 percent. The number of people receiving life-extending treatment, such as antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), has just passed 6.6 million, a huge increase in just a year. An estimated 2.4 million deaths have been prevented and over 400 000 new infections of infants have been avoided due to increased access to treatment, increased use of mother-to-child transmission-prevention drugs and a positive change in sexual behaviour, including among young adults.

On this basis, World AIDS Day should be a good opportunity for the world to intensify what has been done to deal a final blow to AIDS. The UN report suggests that factors to focus on should include better coordinated awareness campaigns, supply of condoms, including female condoms, and a dramatic increase in the supply of treatment.

But in the same week, the Global Fund Against AIDS, which has been singularly helpful in pooling donor funds together for a coordinated disbursement of resources to upscale national responses to AIDS, cancelled approximately 11 of its disbursements. Its board meeting held in Accra, Ghana, reported a sharp fall in revenue as donors either cancelled or delayed paying their pledges for 2012-14.

The situation is so bad that the fund has reduced the number of countries that will qualify for some funding by 2014 and also reduced the amounts available. This means many countries and NGOs that depend heavily on these multilateral facilities will probably have to close their programmes, thus leaving AIDS victims to fend for themselves.

The fund’s problem is not just that many major donors have funding constraints due to the global economic crisis and the euro debt crisis especially, but that the fund has been hit by bad publicity over its financial management and the integrity of the intermediaries in many recipient countries. An overzealous inspector general of the fund has led to exaggeration of administrative deficiencies into allegations of fraud and corruption by intermediaries like the United Nations Development Programme and others.

This has led to donors pulling back or pulling out completely in fear that taxpayers would not take kindly to a perception that scarce development funds are being wasted on corrupt entities.

Of course, there are deficiencies in the management echelons of the fund, but these have been exaggerated in the Western media. As a result, achievements of the past five years could be squandered and millions of lives lost because of accounting technicalities in the administrative system. On this basis, World AIDS Day could be a day for mourning rather than celebration.

Already, a number of NGOs fighting AIDS have closed shop due to reduction in funding, and countries like Swaziland have not received new funding due to concerns about incomplete invoices submitted in the last commitment period. Our much-celebrated Treatment Action Campaign, credited with changes in government attitude to the supply of ARVs three years ago, may retrench staff and close shop in January 2012. Many other anti-AIDS programmes may end abruptly in 2012.

It is not only that many people receiving help during a time when the global disease pattern is thought to have remained precarious will lose life-saving assistance, but it is also that the next phase of the fight against AIDS that the UN report anticipates will save up to 12 million lives by 2020 may not actually even start.

Thus, we may lose the opportunity to consolidate the gains made to save people’s lives today and in future. We may have to pay a lot more in future than we would have paid if we remained steadfast using a global fund to keep the fight against AIDS global, coordinated and concerted.

Even the ground-breaking scientific work on vaginal microbicide gel to prevent HIV infection by the husband-wife medical research team from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Salim Karim and Abdool Karim, who won the Obasanjo Prize, may be in jeopardy.

Countries such as Brazil, South Africa, China and India should consider making special donations to the fund and building a global campaign to keep it afloat. Countries that can afford it should be weaned off the fund and take more national responsibility. Donations to the fund should be made a standard item in the emerging global development agenda, especially that which is driven by the G20’s Development Working Group.

South Africa and other southern powers should make this a major item in their global agendas. It should be part of the fight for a more equitable, just, humane and democratic world.

- Dr Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue. He writes in his personal capacity. This article first appeared in the Witness Newspaper. It is republished with the permission of the Institute for Global Dialogue www.igd.org.za

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