Associated Press
29 janvier 2002

Amid high hopes and frustrations, global fund on AIDS/TB holds first meeting
By Clare Nullis

A special fund of nearly dlrs 2 billion to combat HIV/AIDS, tubercu
losis and malaria has moved one step closer to helping victims of the three diseases, which kill an estimated six million people a year.

The board of directors of the G
lobal Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria said Tuesday it was ready to invite requests for grants from countries ravaged by the epidemics. Governments will have until the end of March to submit detailed proposals of health projects, which will then be considered in April.

The idea of a fund to tackle the three big diseases - the brainchild of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan - was agreed to last July. If all goes well, payments should start by June, said the fund's team leader, Paul Ehmer. "We still have everything to do, but at least there is now hope," French Health Minister Bernard Kouchner said after the first meeting of the board of directors.

"We need hope. The sick need hope. Hope is the beginning of treatment."

So far, dlrs 1.9 billion has been pledged to the fund, of which dlrs 700 million will likely be distributed this year and the rest later. The
United States is the biggest single donor, having already given dlrs 200 million and promised an additional dlrs 200 million next year. European countries such as Italy and Britain have also made sizable offers. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the top private donor, having pledged dlrs 100 million.

The demands are enormous.

"HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria kill 10 people every minute. Everyday 15,000 people die," said Francis Omaswa,
Uganda's director-general of health services. "When those planes rammed the twin towers of the World Trade center, it caused a lot of concern around the world for the victims.... But here we are talking about 15,000 people a day."

"These three diseases are threatening the social, economic and political security of the world, especially deve
loping countries," said Milly Katana, a Ugandan health activist who is afflicted with HIV and has recurring bouts of malaria every two months or so.

Initial funding priority will be given to projects already in the planning stage but that weren't implemented because of lack of resources, said Ehmer.

France, for instance, has pioneered hospital twinning schemes to share expertise and equipment with selected medical institutions in developing countries such as Senegal and Cambodia. Kouchner said he hoped these would be able to benefit from the fund.

Ehmer said there would be a balance between prevention and treatment programs. Some countries, such as
Britain, have said emphasis should be placed on prevention. France has insisted on the need for treatment - and thus the provision of cut-price antiretroviral treatment and cheap generic drugs.

Another controversial issue was private company representation on the 18-member board of directors, responsible for approving distribution of the money. In the end, it was agreed that two private companies - the Gates Foundation and mining giant Ang
lo-American - should be represented on the board, alongside two non-governmental organizations from Germany and Uganda.

The United States, Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Sweden and the European Commission have seats, as do China, Brazil, Nigeria, Pakistan, Thailand, Uganda, Ukraine and one as yet unnamed African country.

In order to minimize bureaucratic delays and maximize flexibility, the fund is outside the U.N. system - although its managers will work c
losely with the World Health Organization and UNAIDS.

Omaswa said the fund would provide vital help to programs in countries like
Uganda, which has one of Africa's most successful anti-AIDS campaigns but which has seen average life expectancy cut to 42 years because of the disease.

"I am 50 years plus," he said. "I know what it was like when I was a young boy. It is worse now."

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