By Paidamoyo Chipunza
Funding for sustained HIV and Aids responses are under threat after the new United States administration announced massive cuts on grants to international non-profit organisations.
Many non-governmental organisations that have been benefiting from the US government’s social service budget annually, have been major funders of HIV and Aids interventions in many developing countries, including Zimbabwe.
The latest development has rekindled calls to increase domestic funding for HIV and Aids interventions in Zimbabwe.
Officials in the sector said although the United States has not yet communicated officially, indications from the country’s new administration led by President Donald Trump were inclined towards cutting down expenditure towards social services.
President Trump’s administration recently presented a lengthy list of ways to cut its budget by $18 billion and these included grants given to non-profit organisations.
The US government is the largest funder to the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM), which supports nearly 744 000 of the estimated 900 000 Zimbabweans on antiretroviral drugs (ARVs).
Through the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) and the United Stated Agency for International Development (USAID), the US government supported various HIV and Aids interventions in the country.
According to CNN, the latest US budget proposal for 2018 called for cutting the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention budget by $314 million by reducing or eliminating spending on various disease research and prevention programmes and another $292 million cut on PEPFAR.
USAID is set to suffer a $1 billion budget cut.
Although President Trump appeared to have spared PEPFAR from his 2018 budget, calling for “sufficient resources to maintain current commitments and all current patient levels”, a lengthy list given to Congress recently noted that the programme would be required to “begin slowing the rate of new patients on treatment.”
US Embassy in Zimbabwe spokesperson Mr David McGuire professed ignorance on the PEPFAR and Global Fund cuts, saying they had indicated that current commitments would be maintained.
Mr MGuire said for 2017, PEPFAR provided almost $145 million to Zimbabwe and was currently planning on funding at a similar level next year.
The Global Fund, which received a third of all its funding from the US government, has also urged Zimbabwe to first ensure that all the 744 000 people receiving treatment under its programme have enough medicine for the next three years.
Zimbabwe received about $400 million for HIV and Aids from the Global Fund, from which about $389 million will go towards treatment of the patients already on treatment for the next three years.
Speaking to parliamentarians at a recent tuberculosis meeting held in Kwekwe, National Aids Council finance director Mr Albert Manenji urged policymakers to advocate increased domestic funding towards Tuberculosis and HIV and Aids.
Mr Manenji said although the country would continue putting people on treatment using other available resources, concerted efforts were needed to ensure sustainable programming beyond donor assistance.
He said, on the other hand, NAC was pushing for local manufacturing of ARVs to reduce costs associated with drug procurements.
Deputy director for Aids and Tuberculosis Unit in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Charles Sandy said funding for TB was also not spared in these looming cuts.
Dr Sandy said Global Fund was the main funder of the national TB programme, providing about $38 million between 2015 and 2017. Other funders included USAID, through The Union, and Government of Zimbabwe, through NAC.
NAC does not have a specific percentage reserved for TB programmes.
“We fear that if the US government proceeds to cutting down funding to social services, our programming which benefits most from the Global Fund will definitely be affected,” said Dr Sandy.
“Currently, we do not have much domestic funding towards TB, yet we have emerging threats from new strains such as resistant TBs.”
Dr Sandy said TB was the leading opportunistic infection that occurred in people living with HIV and Aids, accounting for at least 10 percent of possible opportunistic infections.
He said Government required about $20 million every year to effectively discharge TB programmes. Aids and TB Unit director Dr Owen Mugurungi said current scenarios in TB, HIV and Aids funding was a wake-up call for Government to invest more in the health of its people.