Just as the Asia Pacific Malaria Eradication Network’s community engagement workshop was ending in Chiang Mai Thailand, word reached the group that the Global Fund had cancelled its call for Round 11 funding. During the workshop participants and facilitators had discussed the community systems strengthening potential of Global Fund grants and how this could benefit APMEN counties’ community engagement strategies.
The Global Fund euphemistically phrased this cancellation at the just completed Global Fund Board meeting in Accra with a key decision point that notes the Board “Agrees to establish a Transitional Funding Mechanism … in order to provide this continuation funding (and) Decides to convert Round 11 into a new funding opportunity …”Â Â Jeffrey Sachs clearly laid a large portion of the blame on the U.S. Government, which is responsible for about a quarter of the Global Fund project money when he observed that the U.S. …
… had pledged $4 billion during 2011-13 to the Global Fund, or $1.33 billion per year. Now it is reneging on this pledge. For a government that spends $1.9 billion every single day on the military ($700 billion each year), Washington’s unwillingness to follow through on $1.33 billion for a whole year to save millions of lives is a new depth of cynicism and recklessness.
The APMEN meeting therefore closed with a call on donors to honor their commitments to the Global Fund and the community programs it makes possible.Â The final session was also devoted to action planning that included brainstorming by country teams of alternative funding sources to support community engagement.
Gawrie Galappaththy from Sri Lanka expressed clearly the workshop participants’ surprise and disappointment over the Global Fund announcement.Â “Many of our countries have been receiving Global Fund support since 2003, and we are collectively dependent on the Global Fund from its different rounds. The reality is that with Global Fund support being so regular, governments have shifted some of their financial support for health to other areas. An abrupt stop to Global Fund support will hit us hard.Â It will be necessary to regenerate the political will all over again for malaria and health.”
Gawrie also worried that, “Malaria is a dynamic disease. If we let the pressure off, it will re-grow as happened after the first eradication effort.Â If we can’t get this elimination done now, we may never have a chance to do it again.”
The Globe and Mail summarizes the problem succinctly. “The global economic crisis has claimed a new victim: a $22-billion (U.S.) health fund that has saved millions of lives in Africa and other low-income regions during the past decade… The cuts by donor governments are not just because of the economic slowdown and the financial crisis in Europe, but also because of concerns over corruption in several recipient countries.”
The BBC interviewed the HIV/AIDS Alliance on this issue, and not surprisingly learned that this is the worst of all possible times to see cutbacks in funding for disease control.Â The Alliance’s Director mentioned issues that could equally apply to malaria when he said that, “These should be exciting times – the latest scientific developments …”Â New vaccines, new medicines and strengthened community participation strategies are just a few of the latest malaria developments that could be threatened.
Community engagement does take time and effort, even if it does not cost anywhere near the price of nets and drugs. Communities bring valuable resources to the table, but at the same time we do not want to foist malaria control and elimination responsibilities off on vulnerable poor people in developing countries.Â APMEN workshop participants are going to be engaged in advocacy themselves, and are optimistic that donors old and new will not let communities down.