Zimbabwe: Global Fund Accusations A Blow to AIDS Response

Reports that the Zimbabwe government allegedly swindled Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM) money is a severe blow to the country’s tottering response to the three killer diseases. If the matter is not urgently resolved, there is no doubt that it will influence massive donor flight from the country.

Already, Zimbabwe’s chances to be considered for a US 188 million dollar grant has been put into jeopardy. According to the New York Times, the government of Zimbabwe allegedly spent 7,3 million US dollars donated by the Global Fund on other things and has failed to honour requests to return the money.

“The actions by Zimbabwe have deprived the organization … of resources it needs and damaged efforts to expand life-saving treatment,” the New York Times quoted John Parsons, the Global Fund’s inspector-general. “Zimbabwe’s actions also jeopardize a more ambitious $188 Global Fund grant to Zimbabwe.”

With an ever-spiraling hyperinflation current estimated at 231 million percent, Zimbabwe’s social and economic indicators are horrendous to say the least.

The public health system has all but crumbled with major public hospitals having to be closed due to lack of resources. A widely condemned election in June in which President Robert Mugabe emerged as a victor further worsened Zimbabwe’s image as an international pariah.

Against this background, many international donor agencies have either reduced or frozen aid to humanitarian activities in Zimbabwe.

Although Zimbabwe has a high rate of HIV prevalence, available resources are highly limited. In 2005, UNICEF estimated that the average amount of international HIV-related funding available each year in the Southern African region was US$75 per person, but in Zimbabwe that figure dropped to $4US.

In 2007, the figure had risen to US$17, still far below regional estimates. The alleged abuse of Global Fund money by Harare comes at a time when the country is faced with a worsening of the three killer diseases. In Zimbabwe, 1,7 million people are estimated to be living with HIV, and AIDS-related illnesses account for some 75 percent of all hospital admissions.

TB is increasingly a leading killer disease especially among people living with HIV (PLWHIV) who are often not identified by the commonly used but antiquated TB diagnostic tests. An estimated two thirds of Zimbabweans with TB are also infected with HIV.

Statistics show that Zimbabwe has a staggering six times more TB cases than it did 20 years ago. Increased malnutrition, poor sanitation and overcrowding have helped TB to fester. According to WHO, recent estimates show that there were 2,7 million cases of malaria among the country’s 13 million people.

There is no doubt that the Zimbabwe government is in dire need of increased donor support for it to be able to meet the public health requirements of its largely poor populace.

The Global Fund was by far the largest international donor in Zimbabwe today; and is already threatening to withdraw funds unless Harare returns the money it allegedly swindled.

“The government has been on a buying spree, and I am persuaded to believe this allegation,” said Mbonisi Zimwene, an NGO director.

“The Global Fund will stop funding Zimbabwe, and it will reduce other donor’s confidence. Overall, it will have negative impact at community level.”