The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has dismissed claims that "politics" were behind a decision to reject Zimbabwe's US $218 million application, forcing the country to shelve its plans to scale up HIV/AIDS treatment.
A spokesman for the Global Fund, Tim Clark, confirmed on Thursday that the country's proposal was turned down for "technical reasons", but stressed that the decision "had nothing to do with political considerations".
"Zimbabwe's application, like all the others, was assessed by an independent board of disease experts who found several technical shortcomings. To suggest that the Global Fund has made a decision based on political merit is ridiculous. After all, the Fund has worked with countries such as Sudan and North Korea," Clark told PlusNews.
Clark was responding to comments made by David Parirenyatwa, Zimbabwe's Minister of Health and Child Welfare, who accused the Fund of political bias.
"These are the sanctions that anti-government organisations and the [opposition] MDC [Movement for Democratic Change] are calling for, and this has resulted in a humanitarian proposal being turned down," Parirenyatwa reportedly told the independent Standard newspaper.
Zimbabwe is one of the countries hardest hit by the AIDS pandemic, with an estimated adult prevalence rate of 24.6 percent.
AIDS activists expressed disappointment over the Global Fund's decision to exclude Zimbabwe, citing the already limited resources available to tackle the disease.
Coordinator of the Zimbabwe AIDS network, Kate Mhambi, told PlusNews that the country would have to look "inwards" for funds if it hoped to sustain its fledgling anti-AIDS treatment rollout.
"There were plans to scale up ARV [antiretroviral] therapy treatment, but it seems as if these plans will have to be shelved. It is still unclear what the reasons are behind the Global Fund's rejection, but we do hope that it had nothing to do with politics. Humanitarian concerns should be completely separated from political issues."
Mhambi noted that ARVs were currently administered at four major health institutions, but without the support of international donors it was unlikely that the government would have the capacity to expand treatment programmes.
Clark said Zimbabwe had two options: either the country could appeal the Global Fund decision, or "go back to the drawing board and correct some of the technical glitches in its original application".
Previous applications for HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention programmes had been approved and there were "positive signs" that Zimbabwe would receive the second tranche of a US $9 million grant to support anti-malaria efforts in the country.