PHOTO: Rod McCullom
ADDIS ABABA: The 16th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) has ended in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The final plenary session was delivered by Debrework Zewdie, PhD, the Deputy Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the world's largest multilateral donor to the HIV/AIDS response in the developing world. Zewdie assured the thousands in attendance that despite recent financial setbacks the Fund would continue to "campaign, raise funds and place pressure on governments in both the donor and recipient arenas."
"We have a strategy to save 16 million lives by 2016," Dr. Zewdie told Rod 2.0 in a one-on-one interview before the the plenary. "I'm confident in that strategy."
This comes as HIV/AIDS activists in Addis Abba and around the world have protested after the Global Fund's surprise announcement that it would cancel $1.5 billion in planned disbursements. Officials say that "U.S. and European budget problems have hurt it, but donor backlash over losses to corruption and other misspending also have played a role."
Dr. Zewdie is a native of Ethiopia, has a doctorate in Immunology from the University of London, was a Senior MacArthur Fellow at Harvard University and was formerly the Global HIV/AIDS Advisor for the World Bank. Dr. Zewdie's team reached out to Rod 2.0 at ICASA 2011 to discuss the Global Fund's long term health and funding African projects for men who have sex with men (MSM).
Listen to the interview:
ROD MCCULLOM: The Global Fund has been in the news in recent weeks. Can you explain what happened and why?
DR. DEBREWORK ZEWEDIE: Of course. As you know, the Global Fund has been funding AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. To date we have disbursed $14 billion. About 67 percent of our funding goes to Africa.
The noise you hear is related to our board decision about two weeks ago. The board approved our strategy for 2011-2016 which [aims] to save the lives of 16 million people by 2016. It also approved a transformation plan for the Global Fund to make it more efficient. We’ve been funding for the past 10 years. We now have a two-step process and this coincided with Round 11. For the 2011/13 funding cycle, all of the donors who pledged their resources are still honoring their pledges. But because of the economic climate, the cash at hand was not in the bank by the time we wanted to disburse. Our funding policy is such that all the money for the life of the program must be in the trustee account.
In view of the fact that we didn’t have the resources in the trustee account, the board postponed Round 11. You can ask me is the Global Fund broke and the answer is no—
That was my next question—
No. The amount that we have assigned up until now, those resources are in the trustee account. We will continue to put people on [HIV] treatment, we will continue to buy bed nets, we will continue to put people on treatment for tuberculosis. If we sign Round 11 now, it only becomes effective two or three years down the road. There’s a lot of money … but only down the road.
Does the Global Fund want countries to become more strategic, have more sustainable funding options?
It is. What we’ve been doing up until is that countries have been scrambling for funds. This gives them an opportunity to consolidate funds and inefficiencies so that they can stretch the dollar. Sure, it would have been nice if we had the resources to continue Round 11 but we have enough money in the trustee accounts to fund all.
What is your response to the auditor’s report?
That report came out in September. We’ve been instructed to [develop] a new funding plan. As a result, at least three donors have turned on the tap again—Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom have released monies. That’s the positive response to the plan.
There’s been much discussion at ICASA that African nations should do more to fight HIV/AIDS.
I think it’s appropriate and it’s about time. Some African nations ... up to 100 percent of their funding for HIV is from external sources. That needs to change.
But you’re confident about the Global Fund’s long term health?
Finaly, there’s been some claims that certain African nations have a line item in their funding proposals for MSM issues ...
But they’re not doing anything about MSM issues.
Yes. We wish more countries were funding [MSM]. But they aren’t. We don’t discriminate.
Not the Fund but the individual nations—
Yes, unfortunately, there is a long way to go, although there are just as important as any other sector. We can only hope.
Thanks for speaking with me.
Thanks for having me.