TAC supporters in Cape Town. (Pic: Lee Middleton/IRIN)

South Africa’s Department of Health has failed to channel US$3.9 million in donor money to 13 HIV/AIDS organisations, leaving them underfunded.

As the designated principal recipient of a Global Fund grant to address gaps in the national AIDS response and expand the programme, South Africa’s health department is responsible for dispersing grant money to the NGOs.

According to Global Fund spokesperson Jon Lidén, the grant was delivered to the health department in mid-November, but the 13 recipient organisations have yet to receive their shares of the money. He blamed the delay on the department’s slow and inefficient system for dispersing funds.

“The department has been slow to appoint full-time staff to deal with the allocation of this money. We pointed out to them time and again that they need to do this, as have the recipients. Some progress has been made, but not enough,” he told IRIN/PlusNews in a telephone interview from Geneva, Switzerland.

On 30 November, the AIDS lobby group, Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), which is heavily dependent on financing from the Global Fund, revealed that it was experiencing a financial crisis that would force it to retrench 20 percent of its staff and cut back its treatment literacy programme.

The TAC said in a statement that its financial shortfall was mostly, though not exclusively, the result of not receiving several million rand due from the Global Fund grant.

“The responsibility for this lies with the Department of Health, which, as the principal recipient of the grant, has failed to meet its conditions.” The statement added that the worldwide financial crisis had also put tremendous pressure on its funders.

South Africa’s Global Fund grant is supposed to be used to expand and strengthen the role of NGOs and Faith-Based Organisations to support the national AIDS response.

However, according to the latest grant performance report by the Global Fund, published in August, South Africa’s health department scored the second lowest rating out of the five possible scores on the report card for progress made towards these goals.

Nathan Geffen, the TAC’s treasurer, told IRIN/PlusNews that problems with funding disbursements began on the watch of the previous health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, which came to an end in October when she was moved to the ministry for the presidency.

“The new minister [Barbara Hogan] is aware of the problem, but it is not going to be fixed in one day or a few weeks,” said Geffen.

“The heart of the problem is structural, and the current minister inherited these issues from the previous one.”

Geffen said the difficult decision to retrench staff was the “only responsible option open to us if we are to avoid the untenable situation of not being able to pay salaries several months from now.”

Lidén noted that such delays were not uncommon, but that South Africa, which in many ways was an advanced nation, should be an exception. He added that if recipient countries continued to score badly on their grant performance report cards, this could sometimes put their grants at risk of being withdrawn.

Other organisations affected by the funding delay are Soul City, the Society for Family Health, Humana People to People, Planned Parenthood Association of South Africa, Moretele Sunrise Hospice, Catholic Health Care, South African Council of Churches, Mindset Network, Redpeg, HOPE Worldwide, South Africa Anxiety Depression Group and Child Welfare SA.

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