The number of people living with HIV in the Middle East and North Africa has risen to 460,000 and some 68,000 people were newly infected in 2006 alone. In a bid to curb the region?s growing epidemic, countries have been working with UNAIDS to secure additional funding to scale-up the AIDS response in the region.
Securing external funding is particularly challenging in the Middle East and North Africa due to limited support from external donors. One of the donors operating in the region is the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria which has now become one of the main sources of AIDS funding for the region. The fund was created in January 2002 to attract, manage and disburse additional financing to support locally-driven strategies in response to AIDS, TB and malaria.
To date, the Global Fund has approved a total of US$ 6.6 billion to over 450 grants in 136 countries. Of the US$ 6.6 billion approved, US$ 2.9 billion has been disbursed to public and private recipients in 129 countries.
The grant application process can be complex and many countries in the region have solicited UNAIDS to assist in processing their applications. UNAIDS has played a role in raising awareness and creating a climate which has enabled countries to establish a country coordination mechanism thus making it possible to develop their grant proposals. UNAIDS facilitates provision of technical expertise to these areas and helps countries not only to develop their grant applications but also to implement the grants once approved.
In the most recent round of grants (Round Six) UNAIDS Regional Support Team and Country Offices in the Middle East and North Africa worked with five countries in the region to help formulate their proposals. Grants were approved for four out of the five countries with funding amounting to some US$ 26 million.
?UNAIDS works with countries at every opportunity to help ?make the money work? so that funds reach the people that need them most,? said Michel Sidibe, Director of UNAIDS Country and Regional Support Department. ?As countries move towards the goal of universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, adequate funding from both external and domestic sources is absolutely vital.?
Currently, 13 out of the 22 countries in the Middle East and North Africa meet the eligibility criteria for Global Fund support and 10 out of 11 countries who have applied for Global Fund funding for AIDS to date have succeeded in obtaining funds, amounting to a total of US$ 127 million.
The UNAIDS Secretariat has provided assistance in developing 73% of all the proposals on AIDS in the region that have been approved between Rounds One and Six, including support to proposals from Algeria, Djibouti, Jordan, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan, and Tunisia.
As well as working with countries on grant proposals, UNAIDS also continues to support the implementation of grants and resolve major coordination and implementation difficulties or capacity-building challenges in all countries where grants were already in place from earlier rounds. Through the Global Implementation Support Team ? GIST – UNAIDS, together with Cosponsors and the Global Fund headquarters, are providing a common action plan to support counties in solving bottlenecks, at the request of countries.
Typically the activities funded by the grants are wide-ranging and include development of second-generation surveillance and monitoring and evaluation; working with people most at risk of HIV infection such as young people, people who inject drugs and sex workers; reinforcing civil society??including non-governmental organisations, community-leaders and people living with HIV; increasing access to care, treatment, and psycho-social support of people living with HIV; and other specific interventions, such as coordination, blood safety, voluntary counselling and testing, and sexually transmitted infections.
?The availability of Global Fund resources in the region have created a new reality and represents a critical turning point in the national responses in the Middle East and North Africa,? said Oussama Tawil, Director of UNAIDS Regional Support Team for the Middle East and North Africa. ?This is essential in particular in a context where the allocation of public resources remains relatively limited and primarily oriented to health care responses and other donor resources generally still represent limited support.?
The assistance UNAIDS provides to countries is coordinated with the World Health Organisation and other Cosponsors through an agreement which ensures complementary responses to countries and joint funding of regional training on the development of Global Fund proposals.
?Using the frameworks of the ‘Three Ones’ and ‘Universal Access’, UNAIDS will focus in 2007 on resolving bottlenecks, supporting the implementation process with scaled-up and diversified technical assistance ensuring that efforts in countries go beyond the ‘project-mode’ with regards to the Global Fund grants,? said Tawil.