Gates Foundation Giving $500 Million to Fight Disease

Bill and Melinda Gates sit with Nkosebaca Thingathinga  in South Africa. Thingathinga has had tuberculosis four times.
Bill and Melinda Gates sit with Nkosebaca Thingathinga in South Africa. Thingathinga has had tuberculosis four times. (By Craig Timberg -- The Washington Post)
By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation yesterday said it will give $500 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria over the next five years.

The contribution is by far the largest from a nongovernment source since the Global Fund was created in 2002.

"This very sizable and greatly appreciated additional commitment will help save millions of lives around the world. It is a very strong vote of confidence in the Global Fund," said the organization's director, Richard G.A. Feachem.

Based in Geneva, the fund provides financial support for programs in the developing world to prevent or treat the three named diseases. It was created at the suggestion of United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan but is not a U.N. agency. It is a key institution to bring optimal HIV/AIDS care to poor countries, and currently helps underwrite antiretroviral therapy for about 550,000 people.

Feachem said $200 million will go to help underwrite the fund's sixth round of grants, which will be awarded in November. However, the fund needs about $500 million more for that round, he said. Since its start, it has committed about $5.5 billion for use in 132 countries.

The new contribution is important in part because it theoretically allows the U.S. government -- the fund's biggest donor -- to contribute more. Congress several years ago passed a law stipulating that the federal contributions could not account for more than 33 percent of the Global Fund's total budget. With the foundation money, the U.S. share through 2008 would be 27 percent, a fund spokeswoman said.

As part of its five-year, $15 billion global AIDS program, the Bush administration has pledged $300 million a year to the fund. In recent years, however, Congress has increased that appropriation. In 2004, it appropriated $547 million; in 2005, $347 million; and in 2006, $545 million.

For the budget for the next fiscal year, a Senate committee recently approved a $700 million contribution to the Global Fund, and the House a $445 million contribution.

N. Regina Rabinovich, the director of the Gates Foundation's infectious diseases program, said the organization has spent about $2 billion on AIDS research, prevention and treatment since it was created in 2000.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company