Gates Foundation Donates $100 Million to U.N. Global AIDS and Health Fund
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation yesterday announced it will donate $100 million over an "unspecified" number of years to the U.N. Global AIDS and Health Fund and called on other international donors to follow suit, the Washington Post reports. "We believe that there is no higher priority than stopping the transmission of this deadly disease," Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said (DeYoung, Washington Post, 6/20). "A dramatic increase in funding is necessary and required to fight the pandemic," foundation President Patty Stonesifer said at a meeting with European Union officials in Brussels (AP/Contra Costa Times, 6/20). Stonesifer has been travelling internationally to "dru[m] up support for the fund" (Brand, Associated Press, 6/19). "This is only part of a comprehensive and unprecedented effort that is needed to stop this pandemic. Governments, the private sector and the nonprofit community all have to redouble efforts so that together we can break this chain of transmission," she added (Gates Foundation release, 6/19).
Leveraging More Money
A gift from the foundation, a "key player" in global AIDS efforts, has been seen as "critical" to the success of the fund, and Stonesifer "expressed hope" that the donation would "act as a catalyst that stimulates and leverages other giving" (Washington Post, 6/20). EU officials have "stepped back" from donating to the fund, first proposed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in April, saying there were "not enough guarantees yet that the money would be spent correctly." EU officials want assurances that some of the money will go toward providing drugs for developing nations, and Poul Nielson, the EU's development director, said the fund needs to "broaden its approach" to include other infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. So far, the United States and France have been the only "large donor countries" to make contributions to the fund, of $200 million and $135 million, respectively (Associated Press, 6/19). Activists have complained that the U.S. contribution set "the bar too low." Congress is currently considering legislation that would increase the U.S. commitment to $700 million over the next two years, but the fund is still "far short of its goal" of raising $7 billion to $10 billion. Still, Gro Harlem Brundtland, director-general of WHO, said the fund is "off to a good start" and the "fact that governments, companies and private foundations are joining together to back the fund illustrates that this is not business as usual" (Collins, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/20).
In a statement issued today by his spokesperson's office, Annan said the Gates Foundation donation will "not only serve as a powerful example to other private donors and to governments; in its own right, it will probably save millions of lives." He added, "It is only through a truly global partnership, bringing together governments, corporations, foundations, civil society and individuals, that we can hope to pool the leadership and raise the resources needed to defeat this scourge" (Annan statement, 6/20). Mark Malloch Brown, head of the U.N. Development Program, said the contribution "signals a new phase" in the life of the fund and sends a "powerful signal to other foundations, businesses, non-profit groups and individuals that they can and must get involved" (Brand, AP/London Independent, 6/20). Paul DiDonato, executive director of Funders Concerned About AIDS, a group that "seeks to mobilize philanthropists," said the sector's response "has been good but could have been better" and added that the Gates Foundation donation "goes a decent way toward making the response commensurate with the problem" (Bank et al., Wall Street Journal, 6/20).
Building on Past Gates Successes
Annan said the Gates Foundation's contribution will "form a cornerstone of the emerging global effort to reverse the HIV/AIDS pandemic" (Annan statement, 6/19). While details of the fund's operations have not yet been finalized, the Wall Street Journal reports that Gates and other foundation officials are "being tapped as unofficial advisers" and the fund "is being shaped in part by principles pioneered by several other Gates-backed health initiatives, most notably the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations," the world's "largest independent vaccine program," to which the foundation donated $750 million. The Journal reports that "parallels" with GAVI are already showing. A "confidential" blueprint of the fund's operation shows it will have a "small" executive board and secretariat and will utilize "mechanisms to ensure that the money flows rapidly and is wisely utilized." The Gates Foundation's contribution is "intended primarily to support" prevention efforts. But executives at other foundations say they "worry" that the global fund may come under "heavy pressure to channel spending" into treatment programs and that the United Nations will "favor" governmental programs instead of "grassroots" initiatives, which many foundations deem "more effective." Executives of many foundations have "muted" these concerns in public because "[n]obody wants to be against a lot more money for HIV, which is a critical thing," Kaiser Family Foundation President Drew Altman said. However, there remains a "concern about how to make sure that once the money is raised, it's spent in a way that's really effective and not just dribbled out in lots of small pots," he added (Wall Street Journal, 6/20).