Global Fund set to grant $3bn, talks tough on Zimbabwe

NEW DELHI, Nov 6 (Reuters) – The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is set to grant up to $3 billion in new funding to help fight the diseases, its executive director, Michel Kazatchkine, said on Thursday.

Kazatchkine also said the Global Fund will be "extremely firm" with Zimbabwe over aid money the fund says is being withheld in the country’s Reserve Bank.

The new grant will be finalised in India over the next two days and will be spread over two years, he said.

"The board is set to approve up to $3 billion of new funding at the Global Fund board meeting held in New Delhi," Kazatchkine added.

The Global Fund says it has prevented 2.5 million people from dying from HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria worldwide.

But the Global Fund will not grant hundreds of millions of dollars of proposed new aid to Zimbabwe until the country’s Reserve Bank releases $7 million the fund says was "confiscated" in 2007.

The Global Fund rerouted most of its money out of Zimbabwe as the country went into economic meltdown.

It bought relief materials from outside and then shipped them in, but kept more than $12 million to spend locally, of which $7 million has not been returned, Kazatchkine said.

Inflation is officially put at 231 million percent in the southern African nation, which has the fourth-highest rate of HIV prevalence in the world, according to 2007 data.

"At this time our problem is to recover those dollars," Kazatchkine said. "We will not sign any new grants unless that money is fully recovered."

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has sent a letter to the Global Fund promising to return the money by next week, Kazatchkine said, adding that "patients and people cannot be taken hostage" in the dispute.

Local media had reported that the money was handed out by the Reserve Bank to buy tractors and expensive televisions, but Kazatchkine said the Global Fund has "no evidence of fraud". The Reserve Bank also denies the charge.

The Fund says its sponsored programmes have provided AIDS treatment to 1.75 million people in low- and middle-income countries — nearly 60 percent of the 3 million HIV-infected people in the developing world, according to data released by the World Health Organisation in 2008.