French First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, second left, Bill Gates spouse Melinda, third right sitting, and executive director of the U.N.-backed Global Fund to Fight AIDS Michel Kazatchkine, the hospital "Auberge de l'Amour Redempteur" , Wednesday Jan. 27, 2010, in Dangbo, Benin. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is an ambassador of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. (AP Photo)
GENEVA - The world's biggest financier in the fight against three killer diseases says it has run out of money to pay for new grant programs for the next two years — a situation likely to hit poor AIDS patients around the world.
An official with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria said Thursday that they have been forced to cease giving new grants until 2014 because of global economic woes brought on by debt crises in the United States and Europe.
An independent panel recommended in September that the fund must adopt tougher financial safeguards after it weathered a storm of criticism and doubts among some of its biggest donors.
The fund created the panel — chaired by former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt and ex Botswana President Festus Mogae — in March to address concern among donors after Associated Press articles in January about the loss of tens of millions of dollars in grant money because of mismanagement and alleged fraud.
Germany, the European Commission and Denmark withheld hundreds of millions of euros in funding pending reviews of the fund's internal controls. Germany — the fund's fourth-largest donor- has since restored its funding.
The Geneva-based fund was set up in 2002 as a new way to coordinate world efforts against the diseases and to speed up emergency funds from wealthy nations and donors to the places hardest hit.
Since its creation, the fund, which is strictly a financing tool, has disbursed some $15 billion for programs — $2.8 billion this year alone, including to pay for treatment for around half the developing world's AIDS sufferers. With donations harder to come by, the fund says it can only afford to keep existing AIDS programs going, but not expand its services or add new patients.
"We're not cutting back — we're not expanding," the fund's board chairman, Simon Bland, told The Associated Press from Accra, Ghana, where the board has been meeting this week.
The fund had to make some "tough decisions to protect some of the gains that have already been delivered," he added.
Among those decisions were that hundreds of millions of dollars in grants planned for China, Brazil, Mexico and Russia will now be used for other purposes, fund officials said.
"It is deeply worrisome that inadvertently the millions of people fighting with deadly diseases are in danger of paying the price for the global financial crisis," the fund's executive director, Dr. Michel Kazatchkine, said in a statement.
The board has also decided to create a new general manager position after the panel found unhealthy friction between Kazatchkine and the fund's internal watchdog, Inspector General John Parsons's office, whose teams of auditors and investigators have been documenting losses.
The fund released 12 reports on its website earlier this month that turned up an additional $20 million of mismanagement, alleged fraud and misspending. Earlier probes had detected about $53 million in losses, according to fund documents.
Some of the reports have led to criminal cases, and some countries — mirroring the fund's own efforts — say they have begun putting new financial safeguards in place.