Health funding freeze shows NGO dilemma

A leading charity organization has moved to stop around $1.3 billion in disease control funding from going to a Chinese agency, blaming the recipient of mishandling the money and of a lack of transparency.

The freeze highlights the functional discrepancies of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in various nations, analysts indicated, who also called for parties to iron out differences impeding the efficient process of humanitarian work.

The US-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) said in an e-mail to the Global Times Tuesday that it had run up against a number of implementation challenges in the management of its grants in China since late last year.

The Global Fund froze funding several weeks ago citing an opaque usage of the money by Chinese authorities and the latter’s unwillingness to include grassroots NGOs in the allocation of the charitable funds.

The agency criticized China for violating “an accord of the Global Fund which said that at least 35 percent of the financing should go through community organizations,” AFP reported.

A Global Fund delegation, headed by its deputy executive director Debrework Zewdie, visited Beijing last week for discussions with Chinese authorities and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the principal recipient of Global Fund grants to China.

The Global Fund said “a shared understanding about the issues had been reached” during the negotiation and they had worked out “an agreed way forward to solve the problems,” according to the statement.

“We hope that disbursements can recommence soon, and we have agreed on a number of steps to enable this to happen,” it said.

It was still unclear in what timeframe the disbursement freeze would be lifted.

Neither the Chinese CDC nor health authorities were available for comment Tuesday. Global Fund figures show that the organization approved a total of $1.9 billion in grants to China since 2003, of which $550 million has been disbursed.

China is the fourth country to receive the most money from the Global Fund, following Ethiopia, India and Tanzania, The New York Times (NYT) reported.

The Global Fund advocates a partnership between governments and the civil society in assisting the affected communities, according to its website.

However, this appears at odds with how its funds are allocated in China, as 13 programs funded by the Global Fund here are operated principally by local CDC branches.

The NYT reported that Chinese authorities are concerned that some NGOs are not reliable enough to control the disbursement of these funds, meaning that government-led organizations are being favored.

Feng Yongfeng, a senior researcher with Beijing-based NGO, Greenbeagle, which started exchange programs with the Chinese CDC last year, said it would be helpful for authorities to fulfill their obliga-tions to engage with grassroots organizations.

“Both donators and recipients are supposed to follow the agreed rules. Smooth and effective operations are impossible without this spirit under the current circumstances,” Feng told the Global Times.

Chang Kun, general coordinator of another NGO, China Youth HIV/AIDS Assembly, however, questioned the project management proficiency of some NGOs, seeing some fund management practices as being disorganized, and therefore breeding corruption.

“Some project staff even use NGOs as cash machines. They take the money without honoring their duties,” Chang said.

Chang’s organization acquired 20,000 yuan ($3,030) in 2006 indirectly from the Global Fund pool for its health education program in primary schools in northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Chinese fund managers can only apply for the Global Fund money through the CDC when armed with specific medical programs, but Chang said some programs were never implemented even after win-ning funds.

Deng Guosheng, director of the NGO Research Center at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times that “China’s grassroots NGOs are now mostly in their starter period, and are fairly weak, disorganized and lacking in a sense of cooperation, which makes it difficult for the government to rely heavily on them.”

The Global Fund should learn about China’s circumstances before hastily withdrawing, Deng said, adding that the organization should also include community organization education along with management experience and world-leading disease preventing methods.

Helen Yu, with the World Health Organization in China, told the Global Times in an e-mail Tuesday that the Global Fund’s resources have been well used since 2003.

“Both GF (the Global Fund) and partners in China are aware of current suspected deficiencies in funds management at the operational level. This had been noted in internal audits, and identified problems were being acted upon by government. Both parties recognize the need to identify and address any problems,” Yu said.

Yu said efforts should be done to minimize the concern of partners in the Global Fund’s project implementation in China, which is a potential negative impact of a sudden halt in funding, Yu added.

Huang Jingjing and Liu Linlin contributed to this story

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