The largest international pot of money for disease research, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria in Geneva, Switzerland, has a new guardian. Immunologist Michel Kazatchkine will step in as director of the $7 billion fund on 31 March. His first task will be public relations: The outgoing director, British epidemiologist Richard Feachem, is accused of misappropriating funds.
Being director of the Global Fund is no easy task. The budget is divided among 450 programs in 136 countries. Since its creation in 2002, the fund has provided treatment for 2 million people suffering from tuberculosis and 770,000 with AIDS. Most of its efforts against malaria have focused on distributing 18 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets. In spite of those efforts, the three diseases continue to kill some 15,000 people daily, mostly in the developing world.
Kazatchkine, 60, is up to the task, says Iain Simpson, spokesperson for the World Health Organization. Kazatchkine is an "extremely accomplished AIDS physician" with 20 years of experience, Simpson says, and ran the French national agency for AIDS research, one of the largest AIDS organizations in the world. For the last 2 years, Kazatchkine has been France's ambassador for HIV/AIDS and communicable diseases, representing France in international negotiations to address the epidemic.
Feachem is ending his scheduled 5-year term as director of the Global Fund amid accusations of lavish spending. A 5 February article in the Boston Globe claimed that Feachem has been spending "hundreds of thousands of dollars" of Global Fund money on "limousines, expensive meals, boat cruises, and other expenses."
Officials at the Global Fund dispute the claims. A statement posted on the fund's Web page today reads: "Total expenditure on limousine hire in various cities was $12,670 over a three-and-a-half-year period. The costs per day were typical for standard limousine hire in European cities and much cheaper than the permanent car and chauffeur used by other Under-Secretaries General and leaders of International Organizations." The meal costs were in line with United Nations guidelines, the statement continues, and the "boat cruises" reference relates to a single event, the 2005 end-of-year office party for 110 people, which was held on a boat restaurant in Geneva.