Global Fund Withdraws $98M Grant to Myanmar, Citing Government Restrictions on Travel, Drug Importation
The Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria on Friday announced it has terminated its grant agreements with Myanmar -- also known as Burma -- citing travel and other restrictions implemented by the country's military-controlled government that impede the delivery of medical supplies and services, Reuters reports. The fund in 2004 pledged to spend $98 million over five years to fight the three diseases in the country (Schuettler, Reuters, 8/19). "Given new restrictions recently imposed by the government of Myanmar, the Global Fund has concluded that its grants to the country cannot be managed in a way that ensures effective program implementation," according to a Global Fund release (Global Fund release, 8/19). The restrictions, which were implemented in July, include the requirement that any staff member wishing to leave the capital, Rangoon, get clearance three weeks in advance. In addition, the government has restricted the importation of drugs and indicated that it might halt the importation of lifesaving medications, according to Global Fund officials (Crampton, International Herald Tribune, 8/20). The restrictions violate Rangoon's previous pledge to allow staff and partners "unencumbered access to project sites" and would have made the planned programs impossible, Christopher Benn, director of external relations at the fund, said (Kazmin, Financial Times, 8/20). The Global Fund plans to end its programs in the country by Dec. 1 (BBC News, 8/19).
Burmese officials in Rangoon said the move hampers the fight against HIV/AIDS and that they now will have to search for new funding. "It's very clear and obvious that political reform is required," Jean-Luc Lemahieu, who chairs the U.N. Theme Group on HIV/AIDS in Myanmar, said, adding, "But this should not be done at the cost of human lives, and an unchecked AIDS epidemic will not only increase suffering within the country but also across the borders" (Corben, VOA News, 8/19). Min Thwe, deputy director of the government's National AIDS Programme, said the pullout "could mean many difficulties for [Myanmar's] future extended plans for people living with HIV," as well as prevention plans. "To get another donor like Global Fund will be impossible in the future," he added (AFP/Yahoo! News, 8/20). Some critics have accused the fund of pulling the programs under pressure from the U.S., which has labeled Myanmar an "outpost of tyranny," the Financial Times reports (Financial Times, 8/20). However, Jon Liden, a spokesperson for the fund, said, "Nobody is sadder about this situation than us" (International Herald Tribune, 8/20).
HIV/AIDS, TB, Malaria in Myanmar
Brian Williams, a UNAIDS program representative in Rangoon, said up to 2% of adults in the country -- between 170,000 and 610,000 people -- could be HIV-positive and that the disease is spreading from high-risk groups such as injection drug users and commercial sex workers to the general population (VOA News, 8/18). Myanmar also has one of the world's highest rates of tuberculosis with 97,000 new cases annually. In addition, 3,000 of the 600,000 people who contract malaria each year in Myanmar die from the disease (AFP/Yahoo! News, 8/20). A Global Fund fact sheet, titled "Termination of Grants to Myanmar," that contains detailed information regarding the grant withdrawal is available online.