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NGOs Call On Donors to Step Up Funding at Africa AIDS Conference


World leaders are in Dakar, Senegal, calling for an increased emphasis on prevention in the global fight against HIV and AIDS at the 15th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Africa. But African civil society members working to fight AIDS say a projected funding shortfall could threaten their efforts.

Abdoulaye Wade, president of Senegal, the country hosting the AIDS conference, opened the meeting with a strong call to prioritize efforts to prevent the spread of AIDS and HIV.

He said without prevention, the number of people affected by this deadly disease will continue to grow, and this will threaten the
equilibrium of health systems and then the entire society.

A report released by the United Nations agency working to fight AIDS noted that for every two people receiving treatment, five more are
infected.

But Peter Bujari, executive director of Tanzania-based civil society organization Human Development Trust, which works to fight and treat HIV and AIDS, says increased donations are needed.

"We want to prevent the infection from mothers to children," he said. "That is done through the hospital. So if drugs are not available, it means that we will have more babies born with HIV infection. And that is further problem into the children as they grow, because we will not be able to take care of them, because we don't have medication."

Bujari's organization has been approved to get grant money from the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The Global Fund is currently the largest multilateral organization in the world that receives and distributes donations to fight the diseases. It has already given $14 billion around the world.

But donations for the latest round of grants have fallen short of demand. Programs are funded in two phases. For the second phase, scheduled to begin in 2011, the Global Fund has announced that programs will need to cut their budgets by a quarter, unless more
money is donated.

"So if the cut is implemented, what it will do is that those community programs, youth programs, they will suffer because money will be diverted into drugs, for example," said Peter Bujari.

He says they will have to save the money to fund ongoing treatment programs, since you cannot stop giving someone drugs once they have already begun. But he says the projected funding gap would mean that many new patients will not gain access to life-saving
treatment.

Christoph Benn, director of The Global Fund's external relations and partnerships, says the projected shortfall exists because demand for funding has risen sharply.

"To really fully fund the demand we are not getting from the countries, the Global Fund would roughly have to double its income level," he said.

He says this is fully in line with all the plans for the expansion of the Global Fund and reflects the amount of funding the board thinks is appropriate. However, he says in the midst of a global recession, governments and private sector donors have been reluctant to increase the amounts of their donations.

"They are saying look we believe what you are doing is effective, and we want to continue to support that," he said. "That is why at least we are maintaining our contributions. The challenge is indeed to say, is this the moment we can promise that we would double our contribution. That is where so many donors now are reluctant."

Benn says he is optimistic the funding increases will come. For instance, several U.S. Senators, including President-elect Barack Obama, and Vice President-elect Joe Biden, have signed a statement to ask the United States to appropriate $1.65 billion for The Global Fund in 2009. The decision has been postponed until Mr. Obama takes office, but Benn says he is hopeful Mr. Obama will ensure this funding will be given to the Global Fund. The United States is the largest single donor to the Global Fund, and the $1.65 billion figure would be double what the U.S has given in the past.

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