Government officials in Zimbabwe are unhappy about a decision by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to ditch the National AIDS Council (NAC) as the principal recipient of its existing and future grants and to instead channel funds through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Since the formation of the Global Fund in 2002, the country has received grants in Rounds 1, 5 and 8 of funding. UNDP will take over management from the government-controlled NAC in the final phase of the Round 5 grant and the recently approved Round 8 grant, totalling about US$169 million.
The Global Fund is one of the few remaining international donors supporting Zimbabwe's HIV/AIDS interventions, and the Round 8 money is expected to bring much needed relief to the ailing public health sector.
Seven months ago, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) admitted diverting over US$7 million from the Global Fund's Round 5 grant, earmarked for scaling up the national antiretroviral (ARV) programme.
As a result, efforts to decentralize ARV treatment from hospitals to rural health centres were set back, and many HIV-positive people were unable to access treatment or had to change drug regimens when the money to purchase ARV supplies failed to materialize.
The RBZ eventually returned the money, but the breach of trust is one of the likely reasons for the Global Fund's decision to stop channelling funds through the NAC. The bank will also no longer oversee the accounts of the non-governmental organizations that are sub-recipients of Global Fund grants.
Deputy Minister of Health Douglas Mombeshora said he understood that the Global Fund wanted "quick implementation of programmes and greater accountability", but worried that making UNDP the principal recipient would stall programmes because funds would have to go through the UN agency's offshore accounts.
"What this means is that each time the NAC - or any other organizations that are sub-recipients of the Global Fund money - want anything, they must go through the UNDP," he told IRIN/PlusNews.
"The UNDP will look for suppliers of whatever it is that is required; after finding the supplier the UNDP will then order, and after it receives supplies, forward them to NAC." A better solution would have been to "capacitate" reputable local organizations to handle the grants, he suggested.
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Dr Tapuwa Magure, Director of the National AIDS Council, in oral evidence to the parliamentary committee on health and child welfare, agreed that the handover from the NAC to UNDP would delay grant disbursement, hampering programme implementation. He described the development as "retrogressive".
But HIV/AIDS activist Chitiga Mbanje told IRIN/PlusNews it was preferable to have greater accountability from the UNDP than no funds at all through the central bank and the NAC.
"For a central bank to dip its fingers into the coffers of people living with HIV ... is the most unforgivable thing an institution could have ever done," he said.
"Grant disbursements, even with the NAC as principal recipient, were extremely slow because there were so many political issues at play - it wasn't as smooth as these officials now want to put it. The most important thing is that from now on, grant money will reach the people who need it most."
Insiders at the NAC told IRIN/PlusNews that Global Fund officials were already in Zimbabwe to oversee the handover process. NAC and UNDP officials would visit all the districts that had benefited from Global Fund grants and take stock of all assets bought with grant money since the first disbursement in 2002.
More than 320,000 people in Zimbabwe are in need of ARV treatment; of the 1.7 million living with HIV, only about 150,000 are obtaining ARVs from the public health sector.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions