By Laura MacInnis GENEVA, April 23 (Reuters) - The new head of the Global Fund, a $10 billion group that finances AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria projects worldwide, wants businesses to contribute more to fight the diseases that kill six million people each year.
Michel Kazatchkine, a French physician and diplomat, said on his first day as Global Fund Executive Director that private sector financing represented just 5 percent of the total income of the organisation, which is designated as a public-private partnership.
"Certainly the private sector can increase its contributions. The needs are enormous," he said in an interview at the United Nations’ European headquarters in Geneva.
In addition to cash, Kazatchkine said companies could offer personnel or other in-kind donations to bolster AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis programmes across the developing world, or may help sponsor specific projects in countries where they operate.
The former head of France’s AIDS research programme declined to say whether pharmaceutical companies ought to be tapped for drug donations, noting that the Fund’s governing board would examine that issue later this year.
"It is an area to explore but obviously there are potential conflicts of interest," Kazatchkine said. "I would primarily expect companies to try to decrease their prices rather than maintain high prices and provide in-kind donations of drugs."
Since its launch in 2002, the Global Fund has raised more than $10 billion and committed $7 billion for efforts to prevent and treat AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in 136 countries.
While it has grown to become the largest international financier in the fight against malaria and tuberculosis, and is among the top three for AIDS programmes, it still lacks stable long-term funding sources like those underpinning the World Health Organisation or UNAIDS.
Governments give to those U.N. agencies in regular tranches but commitments to the Global Fund are generally made for only short periods, timed to cover its five-year grants to countries.
Kazatchkine said one of his priorities as executive director was to secure more solid funding for the organisation. This is especially important for AIDS programmes, as patients put on anti-retrovirals need to stay on them to avoid drug resistance.
"We need the resources to be sustainable. We will be looking particularly at whether donors can commit for longer periods of time," he said.
The five-year, $500 million donation from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation last year, and money raised from the RED campaign, where a portion of some iPod, Gap clothing and American Express sales go to the Geneva-based organisation, were helpful steps in expanding its resources, Kazatchkine said.