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New Group Is Raising Large Sums to Fight AIDS, Other Diseases - 2002-01-29

Around the world, nearly six million people die each year from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. A new Geneva-based organization that is working to help countries devastated by these diseases. The organization's board of directors met for the first time this week to set out guidelines and procedures.

The group, the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, was formed only last year, but it has already demonstrated how it can attract money. It has received pledges of almost $2 billion.

The Global Fund is an alliance of private donors, private organizations, governments, intergovernmental organizations, and foundations. The head of the fund's secretariat, Paul Ehmer, says it has asked countries hardest hit by the diseases to submit proposals for projects they would like funded.

The fund has set mid-March as the deadline for submission of proposals and expects to make the first payouts by May or June. Mr. Ehmer says the fund is looking to support programs that deal with both prevention and treatment.

"What the fund is recognizing is that both of these kinds of programs are going to be necessary. And we are expecting that countries will come forward with proposals that will reflect that kind of a balance," he said.

Developing countries in all regions of the world are eligible to apply for grants.

Bernard Kouchner is France's minister of health and a board member of the Global Fund. He says it is likely more of the fund's money will go toward HIV/AIDS projects than for tuberculosis and malaria. Since all three diseases are more prevalent in Africa than anywhere else, it is likely that programs from that continent will receive most of the money, but he says other continents will not be ignored.

"The majority of the projects will come from Africa because of the dimension, the scale of disease and the needs. But also coming out from Asia. What about China? What about India? What about the Caribbean and South America? We are facing a fantastic challenge," he said.

Another member of the board, Francis Omasna of Uganda's ministry of health, knows all about these challenges. He says every day, 15,000 people in his country die from AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria. Life expectancy has gone down from 52-years to 42-years.

"The tragedy which I have just described really is a shame. It is a scandal. This is because while these diseases are ravaging our people, the fact is that the technologies for preventing and curing these diseases does exist and is enjoyed by those who have access to these facilities," he said.

Mr. Omasna regrets that it has taken so long for something like the Global Fund to come along, but he says at least it has come and can make a difference.