French ambassador to lead fund fighting AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria

Associated Press | 08 Feb 2007
International Herald Tribune
Dr. Michel Kazatchkine, France's ambassador for the international battle against the AIDS epidemic, was chosen Thursday to head the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, an official said.

Kazatchkine, a former director of the French National Agency for AIDS research, will succeed Briton Richard Feachem, whose term at the head of the independent, US$7 billion (€5.4 billion) fund expires in March, Global Fund spokesman Jon Liden said.

He said Kazatchkine was elected by a vote of the fund's board comprised of national health officials, U.N. and World Bank representatives, company executives and campaigners. The official vote tally was not immediately available, he said, but confirmed that Kazatchkine received the necessary two-thirds majority.

The other top candidates under consideration were Dr. David Nabarro, who has been guiding the United Nations' efforts against the deadly bird flu virus, and Ugandan AIDS chief Alex Coutinho.

The Global Fund was an initiative conceived by the world's richest governments at the 2001 Group of Eight economic summit in Genoa, Italy, where they pledged to step up funding to fight HIV/AIDS and other global epidemics.

The fund has spent some US$3.3 billion in more than 130 countries since it was created and has provided more than 500,000 people with AIDS treatment and treated 1.4 million others for tuberculosis. It has given out more than 11 million bed nets to prevent bites from the mosquitoes that spread malaria.

The Geneva-based body has been trying to find a successor to Feachem for months, but its board could not reach consensus on a single candidate. recently retired Arizona congressman Jim Kolbe was one of five original finalists for the job, but fell out of consideration after the board balked at choosing a new executive director in Guatemala last November .

The fund has recently been on the defensive because of allegations that Feachem spent hundreds of thousands of dollars (euros) on limousines, expensive meals, boat cruises and other expenses.

The Boston Globe revealed earlier this week the details of an internal investigation, which suggested Feachem's spending habits created "potential risks," including loss of donor confidence because of "inadequate internal controls over funds."

Global Fund officials disputed the accuracy, context and fairness of the inspector-general's report.

The fund receives its contributions from governments as well as from business corporations and private foundations. The U.S. government provides about a third of all funding and is the largest donor. Last week, the House of Representatives approved a US$724 million (€557 million) contribution to the fund.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the biggest private contributor, having pledged a total of US$650 million. Another donor is the "red" campaign set up by U2 lead singer Bono, which enlists companies to donate part of their proceeds toward anti-AIDS programs in the world's poorest countries.

Kazatchkine began working with AIDS in 1983 as a young clinical immunologist, when he treated a French couple that had returned from Africa with unexplained immune deficiency, according to a biography posted on the Web site of the French Foreign Ministry.

He started a clinic in Paris two years later that is still in operation, currently treating more than 1,600 people. He has published over 600 research papers and led France's AIDS research institute, the world's second largest with a budget of US$65 million, from 1998-2005.

Kazatchkine also has experience with AIDS programs in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and South America, according to the ministry, for which he has worked since 2005 as global HIV/AIDS and communicable diseases ambassador.


Associated Press writer Eliane Engeler contributed to this report.