Several-hundred people gathered in the Kenyan capital Monday to protest funding cuts made by the decade-old The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The cancellation of the so-called “Round 11,” which would have covered new grants for the prevention and treatment of the three diseases from 2011 to 2013, is being met with criticism and fear in Kenya, Uganda, and all over the world.
Youth counselor Geoffrey Ochieng is very worried about the future.
Prior to starting his anti-retroviral treatment, or ARVs, Ochieng suffered from meningitis and tuberculosis. But during the five years that he has been taking ARVs, he has had a clean bill of health.
"We always counsel our fellow youths that when you take medication, you are able to live a more awesome life. But if the medication is not there, then now you think otherwise; what will happen if there is not medication? So you get worried, he said. "What am I going to do if the medics is stopped?"
Health promoter Siama Musini wonders how her low-income clients in the informal settlement of Kibera will survive in the face of no Round 11. "They have people who we have already enrolled in the program, those who are in need of ARVs. They might miss the treatment, which will return us back to the 1990s where we used to have around 700 people dying daily in hospitals," Musini stated.
Musini and Ochieng participated. They were among hundreds of demonstrators in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park Monday calling for the resumption of Round 11.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, supported by donor governments, is among the world’s largest financiers of programs to prevent and treat the three diseases, saving an estimated 100,000 lives each month around the globe.
But some donor governments have not fulfilled their pledges, forcing The Global Fund’s board to cancel their next round of funding. This means that countries will receive no new money for the prevention or treatment of AIDS, TB, and malaria until 2014.
The Fund has set up what it calls a “transitional funding mechanism,” which covers the continuation of essential services.
Dr. Peter Mugenyi, an expert on AIDS treatment, says thanks to The Global Fund, AIDS has, in his words, “stopped being a death sentence, but became a chronic infection.” He says he fears a dramatic reversal in gains made in his country Uganda and elsewhere.
"When treatment came to Uganda and other parts of Africa, we saw many people coming up to get tested for HIV. Many people shunned stigma, which was stopping people going for testing. The reason why they shunned stigma and why they came up in such big numbers to be tested was because, if they were found positive, they had hope," Mugenyi said.
He notes that Uganda had submitted a proposal to The Global Fund to implement "prevention of mother to-child transmission programs" that would put pregnant HIV-positive women on ARV treatment so that their babies can be born HIV free.
In Kenya, more than 400,000 people are taking ARVs, but some 500,000 still need the drugs, according to the Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium.
According to the medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders, nearly half of people in developing countries who need HIV treatment now have access, and treatment coverage increased by 30 percent in 2010 alone in sub-Saharan Africa. It says that a person put on treatment earlier is 96 percent less likely to transmit HIV.
The Global Fund dispersed $8-billion between 2008 and 2010. It got a substantial boost last week when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said it would contribute $750 million to the Fund above its current commitments.