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[CAPE TOWN] The principal international agency that channels funds to HIV/AIDS treatment is suspending all new projects, following cuts by donors in high-income countries. The suspension comes just as promising research on HIV prevention has been emerging.

The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria has no money for the latest round of grants, it announced at a board meeting in Ghana last week (21–22 November).

The Geneva-based agency, which mainly funds AIDS treatment and prevention programmes, raises money from donors every three years. It will now make no new grants until 2014, because of the 20 per cent cut in funding commitments.

"What this means is that countries can only continue with essential programmes and not think about scaling up," said Shaun Mellors, Global Fund community board member from South Africa.

He said the fund has had to make tough decisions on which countries and programmes will be supported.

"Undoubtedly communities are going to fall through the cracks," he told SciDev.Net. "But we do not have to be in this position if the donors pay the outstanding pledges."

Salim Abdool Karim, director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), added: "The Global Fund is an important contributor — it would be a great loss if NGOs [non-governmental organisations] and community programmes were not able to continue their good work due to funding shortfalls."

This is not the first time the fund has faced funding challenges, and a financial review of the fund published in September said it needed substantial overhaul.

Margaret McGlynn, president of the International Aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), said strategies for preventing HIV transmission — including preventive vaccines, pre-exposure prophylaxis and early antiretroviral treatment in people living with HIV — have generated positive results in large-scale clinical trials.

She said a global will to expand treatment and prevention programmes could have had a major impact on the rate of new HIV infections.

"It's important to remember that doing too little today to stem the tide of new infections by investing in HIV-prevention research will, in the long run, cost the world far more tomorrow," McGlynn told SciDev.Net.  

She said HIV prevention research is funded by a relatively small group of donors in developed countries, which have all suffered serious economic setbacks. "We hope that emerging economies will be willing to step up and broaden the base of funding for HIV prevention research," she added.

India and South Africa are among emerging economies renewing their commitment to invest in AIDS vaccine design and development, noted McGlynn.