29 janvier 2002

Anti-AIDS Fund Swings Into Action
By Richard Waddington

GENEVA (Reuters) - A global anti-AIDS fund, intended to spearhead the world's war on a pandemic that has killed millions, swung into action on Tuesday with a call to countries to suggest projects for it to finance.

At its first meeting, the board of the Geneva-based body approved rules for distributing its funds, which currently stand at $1.9 billion.

"With this board meeting, the fund has become operational,'' Paul Ehmer, the acting executive director of the Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, told a news conference.

The fund was launched in 2001 with the aim of providing a significant chunk of the $7-$10 billion a year that United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said is needed to combat AIDS and the other two deadly scourges.

The diseases kill some six million people a year, with AIDS responsible for about half that figure.

AIDS has cut life expectancy, increased infant mortality and orphaned millions of children, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, home to more than 28 million people with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Although the amount raised so far falls well short of Annan's goal, officials said they were pleased with the response, noting that more help could come from international companies once the fund proved it was effective.

"This is great progress. It was unimaginable even just a few years ago,'' said France's Health Minister Bernard Kouchner, who attended the inaugural, two-day meeting that ended on Tuesday.

The $1.9 billion includes donations that will be spread over more than one year. Funds available for use in 2002 amount currently to $700 million, officials said.


The 18-member board--seven representatives each from developed and developing countries, two from non-governmental organisations and two representatives of private donors and corporations--set a six-week target for proposals to be presented.

The ideas will then go to a soon-to-be-appointed technical committee for scrutiny before they are passed back to the board for a decision. The first cash could be released by April.

The Fund said projects should represent a balanced approach to the fight against the diseases, covering prevention, treatment, care and support for people living with HIV.

"The aim is that proposals should be funded rapidly, with the minimum of red tape, but with enough safeguards to make sure funds are used responsibly and effectively,'' it added.

Ehmer said that while all countries would be given equal consideration, it was natural the bulk of funds would go to Africa where suffering was greatest.

"This fund is so important because we have good plans but no money,'' said Francis Omaswa from the Ugandan Ministry of Health.

Uganda is one African nation to have had relative success in containing the spread of AIDS. Armed with a strong prevention campaign, it has reduced incidence to 6% of its 22 million population from a peak of 18% a few years ago.

"It is a scandal because the technology exists to treat these diseases that ravage our people,'' he said, noting that $10 could buy treatment for tuberculosis and just $2 would be enough to help a person with malaria.

Nevertheless, despite the optimism voiced by officials, some AIDS activists warned that a lack of funding threatened to undermine the fund's efforts just as they were beginning.

"To our shame, to date the international community has consistently failed to rise to this challenge,'' the British-based Stop AIDS Campaign said.

back on top