The head of the Bush administration's global AIDS plan said yesterday he is taking steps that would permit the United States to give more money to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria this year than previously planned.
The decision by Ambassador Randall L. Tobias, of the State Department, essentially extends the deadline for measuring other countries' contributions to the Global Fund, which is a crucial calculation in setting the ceiling for U.S. contributions. The United States may now be able to give the fund as much as $547 million this year instead of $426 million.
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Based in Geneva, the 2 1/2-year-old Global Fund gives grants to governments and organizations in the developing world to fight the three main diseases of poverty -- AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
Tobias's action was taken, in part, to symbolically affirm the United States' commitment to the fledgling institution, which was established at the suggestion of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan but is not formally affiliated with the United Nations.
Many AIDS activist groups contend that the Bush administration is minimizing its contributions to the Global Fund because it has less control over money routed through it than over money given directly to Third World countries or donated through other charities.
"I hope this explanation will clarify our intentions and our plans -- for now and for the years ahead," Tobias wrote in the letter to Richard G.A. Feachem, the Global Fund's executive director.
The law establishing the Bush administration's $15 billion, five-year emergency plan for AIDS relief stipulates that the United States cannot provide more than 33 percent of the cumulative contributions to the Global Fund.
A snapshot of contributions is taken every July 31. If at that date the full congressional appropriation for the fund would exceed that limit, the amount of "extra" money has to be withheld and used for other AIDS-fighting purposes.
Under that formula, the United States could give the fund $426 million this fiscal year, not the $547 million Congress appropriated.
Using his discretionary powers, Tobias has decided to hold the difference -- about $121 million -- until Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. If other countries and foundations contribute about $240 million in the next two months, he will turn the $121 million over to the Global Fund, he said in a telephone conference with reporters.
The arrangement was suggested by Global Fund officials as a way to both maximize the U.S. contribution and to accommodate the budgetary schedules of European countries, whose donations were not all going to be delivered by the July 31 accounting deadline, said James V. Palmer, a fund consultant in the United States.
Non-U.S. donors had delivered 87 percent of this year's commitments by July 31, said Anil Soni, executive director of the advocacy organization Friends of the Global Fight. He said he is confident the remainder of the pledges will be filled in the next two months, allowing the United States to give its $546 million this year.
That sum is about double what the Bush administration originally wanted to give to the fund this year. Congress increased the contribution.
The Global Fund makes initial grants for two years, with a provision that a treatment or prevention program will get money for three more years if it performs well. To date, it has committed to providing $3 billion for 310 grants in 128 countries.
About 56 percent of the awards is being used for AIDS, 31 percent for malaria and 13 percent for tuberculosis.