Inauspicious Start to World AIDS Day: Global Fund Ceases Grantmaking through 2014

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November 30, 2011; Source: PBS NewshourOne of the distinctive multilateral and philanthropic successes of our era, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria had to make a painful announcement, just days before World AIDS Day. The Fund announced that it would cease making new grants through 2014, as the Newshour reported, “because of the impact of the global economy on donor governments.” While the economic turbulence in Europe and the United States imperils some funding, the Global Fund lost donors earlier this year, not because of economic conditions but because of reports that some $34 million had been lost to corruption in several countries. A serious issue, but relatively small in light of the Global Fund’s distribution of more than $22 billion in 150 countries since 2002—some of which are not exactly known for their honesty and transparency in government. Whether it’s economics or corruption, the result is no more new money from the largest funding program of this kind in the world.

That doesn’t mean that the Fund will renege on current commitments. A spokesperson said that the $4 billion in the Fund’s trustee account plus the expected receive of $10 billion in pledges still coming in ensure that all of the Fund’s current program and funding commitments will be fulfilled. Apparently, reforms that were made to fight against the misuse of funds in recipient countries have convinced some reluctant donor countries, such as Germany, to re-up payments on their current 2011–2012 pledges.

Nonetheless, commentary about the Global Fund doesn’t necessarily sound like the program will be back on its upward trajectory in 2014. In the United States, the 112th Congress cut this nation’s funding for AIDS, and budget-hacking members of Congress don’t necessarily seem disposed toward increasing the funding, despite President Barack Obama’s recent commitment to try to appropriate more money to fight AIDS.

Actually, Obama has taken his share of criticism over AIDS funding cuts, compared to his two predecessors, particularly President George W. Bush, who was widely lauded for his commitment to funding the fight against AIDS overseas through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which he created in 2003 —possibly the high-water mark of his administration.

Bush spoke from Tanzania on a special international satellite link-up for World AIDS Day, calling for more PEPFAR funding, and he penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal advocating not just funding for the eradication of AIDS but also for continued U.S. funding of humanitarian assistance overall, which he accurately put as less than 1 percent of the federal budget and “not the cause of our [nation’s] fiscal problems.” “Reducing our commitment [to humanitarian foreign aid],” the former president declared, “would only succeed in increasing the sum of suffering.”

Funding shortfalls at the Global Fund and inadequate U.S. refunding of PEPFAR will do just that.—Rick Cohen