Wed, May 25, 2011 - Page 9 News List

AIDS funds for China frozen in grant dispute

The Chinese government’s propensity to view NGOs with suspicion has fueled its obstruction of the public health activities of AIDS activists in the country

By Sharon LaFraniere  /  NY Times News Service, BEIJING

However, China’s huge success in winning awards — coupled with growing evidence of the government’s deep pockets — has inspired some fiery criticism, including from Jack Chow, a former first assistant director-general of the WHO, who helped create the Global Fund.

Chow, now a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has said that the Chinese Ministry of Health seeks aid only because the Chinese government chooses instead to lavish funds on “hard power” agencies or to invest it in other sectors.

“China’s persistent appetite threatens to undermine the entire premise behind the Global Fund,” he wrote in the July issue of Foreign Policy.

At a time when the fund is struggling for contributions, he wrote: “Donors will grow even more reluctant if they realize that substantial funds are being awarded to a country that can more than pay for its own health programs.”

China’s contributions to the fund amount to only US$16 million, compared with US$5.5 billion from the US, the leading donor, he wrote. Fund officials have been reviewing the question of eligibility criteria and lower-than-expected donations are now forcing them to be more selective about recipients.

Some fund officials suggest that China is not expected to apply for major new grants. Nonetheless, fund officials insist the controversy over eligibility criteria had no bearing on the fund’s decision to hold up payments.

The problems between the fund and China turned serious late last year after audits revealed that China had failed to give 35 percent of a US$283 million AIDS grant to community-based organizations, as it had pledged. The grant focused on community-based HIV treatment and prevention, especially focusing on drug users and prostitutes.

According to a report by a non-government group called Global Fund Watch, China actually allocated less than 11 percent to non-governmental organizations (NGOs). An external audit found that community groups appeared to be left out of strategy sessions.

Chinese officials countered that many civil society groups could not be trusted to properly spend the Global Fund’s money and that government agencies were more trustworthy, sources said. However, in interviews last week, activists challenged that view.

One, Chang Kun (常坤), said that government officials or “official NGOs” created by the government routinely pocketed more than half the grant funds. He said that an AIDS rights group that he headed in the Xinjiang region had received a grant of roughly US$3,000 in 2005, only to be forced to return it because the government disbanded his group.

“They view our campaigning as troublemaking. They don’t like private NGOs and people taking up organizing roles,” he said. “I have been campaigning for AIDS patients for seven years now and I rarely see people getting any benefits from the Global Fund.”

The Hebei Province director of an AIDS support group, Shen Zhiqi, said that he supported the fund’s decision to withhold funds, because “I really don’t want to see something as well-intentioned as the Global Fund be sucked into the black hole of corruption.”

However, he said he did not endorse totally withdrawing financing because it would hurt grassroots groups.

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