28 March 2012

Aids treatment progress endangered

The world is losing ground in its efforts to improve the treatment of Aids/TB victims because of a global health fund's termination of new grants, Medecins Sans Frontieres said.


The world is losing ground in its efforts to improve the treatment of Aids and tuberculosis victims because of a R174 billion global health fund's termination of new grants, the aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres said.

The humanitarian organisation - also known as Doctors Without Borders -told reporters that the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria's cancellation of plans for R15 billion in grants between 2011 and 2013 has caused thousands of new patients to go untreated.

"New treatments for patients have been put on hold," said MSF general director Bruno Jochum, whose group has been providing antiretroviral HIV treatment. "In some cases, treatment clinics have simply been shut down."

Tough choices for medical teams

Jochum said a lot of medical teams will have to make tough choices, including which patients to treat and which will be left, perhaps to die.

The Geneva-based Global Fund said last year it had cancelled plans for its "Round 11" of grants to expand or add programmes due to lack of contributions from donor nations in the face of a difficult economic climate.

But the fund says it also has been tightening its control over how billions of rands of grant money are managed. The fund created an outside review panel last year after Associated Press articles about the fund's losses led some donors to withhold funding, and the fund scaled back it’s spending.

The fund's announcement last year that it had cancelled spending is a huge setback in efforts to keep alive thousands of people living in poor countries, Jochum said. Also, some related international efforts by the United States, the United Nations and other organisations have been scaled back, he said, on the premise that the Global Fund would pick up the slack.

Poor countries falling behind

Dr Eric Goemaere, head of MSF's South African branch, said that some poor countries are now falling behind in their efforts to treat new patients and prevent more infections, which is creating "a vicious circle" similar that faced by African countries more than a decade ago.

"We are going back in time in those countries and in a way we are in danger of driving the epidemic underground," Goemaere said.

Fund spokesman Andrew Hurst said it continues to hand out R22 billion a year to fight the three diseases, and any country whose grants run out between now and the end of 2013 will get funding so patients can stay on treatment and prevention services are maintained.

"As the Global Fund completes a major reorganisation so that our investments in 150 countries can save even more lives, we intend to seek more funding from existing and new donors," he said.

(Associated Press, March 2012) 

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