The Philippines is to continue receiving funding from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GF) after December 2012. This according to Beatrice Bernescut, from GF’s communications department, who said that “it is true that there has been a lot of unclear and even conflicting information about the GF circulating lately”.
Bernescut was responding to a letter sent by Pozzie Pinoy, a self-described “person living with HIV (PLHIV) living in Manila, Philippines”. As one of the “thousands of Filipinos who have been helped by (GF)”, he wanted to know if it will “still continue funding its programs for the Philippines, especially programs for HIV treatment”, largely believed to end by the yearend.
“There are a lot of speculations from my fellow Filipinos that the GF will stop funding the programs for HIV in the Philippines, and everything will end this December 2012. Even our good doctors can’t answer the question. Everything is speculative, and this scares a lot of us especially those who really can’t afford the treatment,” Pozzie Pinoy stated in his letter.
With GF’s support, “the different government treatment hubs in my country are providing us with free doctors (for) consultations, free lab testing including the very expensive CD4 test, free prophylaxis for opportunistic infections (OIs), and free ARVs. I am one of those who had a very low CD4 count when I started treatment last year, and because of the GF, my CD4 has jumped up to about 700% in just a few months,” Pozzie Pinoy added. “Because of this, I am so grateful to (GF) for (having) given me a second life, and very thankful for what you have given all my Filipino brother and sisters who are living with HIV.”
In her response, Bernescut gave the assurance that “the Philippines will continue to receive funding after December 2012”. As an explanation, she elaborated: “The GF awards grants to countries through what we call ‘funding rounds’. In mid-2011, the Board of the GF decided to launch Round 11, on the basis that there was sufficient projected funding to approve new programs. However, by November 2011, a number of things had changed, including some donors making their contributions later than planned, changes in exchange rates, et cetera – so much so that our financial projections showed that there would not be enough money to fully support new programs. The Board thus decided to cancel Round 11. This was very difficult, as a number of countries – including the Philippines – had counted on new grants being approved in Round 11 in order to continue and scale up their existing programs. But we feel strongly that it would be wrong to approve grants for funding if we were not absolutely certain that the money would be available – why make promises you can’t keep?
“At the time that the Board cancelled Round 11, they anticipated that the next opportunity for countries to apply for new grants would not be until late 2013/early 2014. Knowing that a significant number of countries would see their grants come to an end before 2014, the Board of the GF established what we call the ‘Transitional Funding Mechanism’. This is not funding for new programs – this is money which will enable countries to continue lifesaving treatment under existing programs until they can apply for new funding in the next funding opportunity, i.e. until 2014.”
Everything approved up to and including Round 10 continues to be fully funded by GF.
While the Philippines has one existing grant for HIV, it is coming to the end of its five-year period and is scheduled to close at the end of this year. However, added Bernescut, “I can share with you that the Philippines has been approved for funding through the Transitional Funding Mechanism. The approval of this funding and the notification to country were made only in the last week or so, so it is entirely possible that the implementers have not yet had the time to fully share this information. This additional funding will provide support for essential services such as ARV therapy for eligible patients and outreach work among most-at-risk populations.”
In anticipation of the ending of GF funding, the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) has already come up with a benefit package for Filipino PLHIV for the country to be able to meet Millennium Development Goal (MDG) No. 6, which is to “halt or reverse the spread” the virus. According to PhilHealth Circular 19-2010, outpatients with HIV or AIDS are entitled to a P30,000 insurance package for one year (after the infection is confirmed by the Sexually Transmitted Disease/AIDS Central Cooperative Laboratory or Research Institute for Tropical Medicine). Although still minimal, the package is still hoped to increase the number of PLHIV having access to effective HIV and AIDS treatment and patient education measures.