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East Africans warn funding cuts will increase AIDS deaths

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 30 Jan 2012 15:58 GMT
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NAIROBI (AlertNet) – Hundreds of HIV-positive Kenyans protested outside the European Union’s Nairobi office on Monday, accusing the EU of causing unnecessary deaths by cutting funding to the world’s largest financial backer of the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The public-private Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria said in November it had run out of money to pay for the next two years for new grants for countries battling these diseases. The demonstrators called on the Global Fund to hold an emergency donor conference to raise $2 billion so developing countries can apply for grants this year.

“We are just burying a grenade that is going to explode in future,” said Peter Mugyenyi, a scientist involved in the treatment of HIV/AIDS in neighbouring Uganda, who travelled to Kenya to take part in the demonstration.

“If we don’t increase funding now, we already know that the transmission of HIV is going to increase.”

Demonstrators warned that people will stop going for HIV-testing and stigma will increase if it becomes harder for people to access free antiretroviral drugs.

“How many people will go for HIV-testing when drugs are not available? You’d rather not know and leave it like that,” said Paul Ndegwa, one of the demonstrators, who has been living with the disease for 18 years.

The Global Fund pays for about 40 percent of Kenya’s antiretroviral drugs, according to Nelson Otwoma, national coordinator of the National Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya.

Just over half of Kenyans needing treatment are currently receiving it – some 400,000 people, he said.

The Global Fund accounts for around a quarter of international financing to fight HIV and AIDS.

TREATMENT AS PREVENTION

Funding is being withdrawn at a critical time in the battle against HIV/AIDS, activists said.

“The concept now is treatment as prevention,” said Ndegwa.

Recent scientific studies have shown that getting timely drug treatment to people living with HIV can significantly cut the number of new infections.

A person put on treatment earlier is 96 percent less likely to transmit the virus, and a dramatic increase in the number of people receiving treatment has cut mortality rates.

In sub-Saharan Africa, treatment coverage increased by 30 percent in 2010, according to the medical charity Medecins sans Frontieres.

MISUSE OF FUNDS

An ongoing economic crisis hitting big donor countries has hit funding. But so has the fact that the credibility of the Global Fund has came into question

Last year, the fund reported "grave misuse of funds" in four recipient nations, prompting donors such as Germany and Sweden to freeze their donations.

And earlier this month its executive director, Michel Kazatchkine, stepped down early following criticism over misuse of funds.

However, campaigners said stepping up investment in the Global Fund now is important to save both lives and money in the long term.

“We want action now so that we don’t come to the stage where people are dying at the rate of (the) 1990s,” said Mugyenyi.

(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)

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