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The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria will on Tuesday sign grant agreements worth tens of millions of dollars with China despite continuing controversy over disputed elections to the board that oversees its aid in the country.
The dispute over April elections to the Global Fund's China Country Co-ordinating Mechanism (CCM) has highlighted tensions between Beijing's Communist government and an emerging class of independent non-governmental organisations.
Some NGOs have strongly criticised the organisation of elections for NGO and patients' delegates to the CCM board, which were handled by CCM secretariat staff seconded from the state-controlled Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CCM board in June agreed to a review of the elections led by the China representative for UNAids, the United Nation's co-ordination body, that is expected to be completed this month.
The Global Fund has decided to proceed with the signing of agreements on grants of $13m (€10m, £7m) for HIV/Aids work and $20m for malaria to be spent in China over the next two years, despite opposition from some local NGOs.
“We believe that a sound process is now in place to review that election,” said Richard Feachem, Global Fund executive director, who will sign the agreements with the director of the CDC, China's “principal recipient” of fund grants.
“The Global Fund will be insisting that the recommendations coming out of that review are fully implemented,” Dr Feachem said. “I'm optimistic that this will lead to a satisfactory resolution.”
Staff at the Global Fund, which was set up following the UN General Assembly on Aids in 2001 to raise and distribute funds to combat Aids, malaria and TB, said failure to implement the recommendations could lead to suspension or termination of the grants.
The decision to move ahead with the signing may ease concerns of possible delay in funding for a range of Chinese organisations fighting Aids and malaria.
However, the Global Fund's move was denounced by Wan Yanhai, China's most internationally famous Aids activist, who has denounced the votes as lacking in transparency, unequal and “full of double standards”.
Mr Wan said the Global Fund should have waited at least until after the review was complete. “We clearly told them that it is not a good time to sign the grant agreement,” he said. “I feel we are not respected by the Global Fund.”
The CCM votes dispute reflects suspicions created by government efforts to control the activities of NGOs and other independent groups.
Analysts say Beijing is caught between recognition of the positive role NGOs can play in fighting disease and environmental problems and fear that they might undermine the Communist party's monopoly on power.
Qiang Zhengfu, CCM secretary-general, has accused Mr Wan of picking fault in order to win funds from overseas human rights organisations and of a lack of “patriotic feeling”.