(RED): The remarkable non-charity helping millions

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Indy Politics

The world is turning to (RED). From Emporio Armani sunglasses, to American Express cards to Motorola phones, millions of people have chosen a (RED) product and in doing so contributed to the battle against the three great scourges of the 21st century Aids, Malaria and Tuberculosis.

(RED) is not a charity or a campaign it is a business. It works with some of the world's top brands to make unique (RED)-branded products, up to 50 per cent of the profits from which are directed to the fight against disease in Africa.

In the 20 months since (RED) was launched it has reached 155 million people around the world and raised over $50m. All the cash has been contributed to the Global Fund to be spent on programmes in Africa with a focus on the health of women and children.

Its fundraising success has made (RED) the 13th largest contributor to the Global Fund, ahead of countries including Australia, Belgium, China and Russia. Its products are available in 37 countries and it has become a major player on the international stage. Its unique feature is that it provides a source of charitable finance that can go on and on.

The Global Fund to fight Aids Tuberculosis and Malaria, through which (RED) is channelling its cash to Africa, was set up in 2002, following calls by African heads of state and the UN General Assembly. It has grown to be the largest financer of the drive against the three most devastating diseases in the developing world. The fund is based in Geneva with a tiny staff, relative to the sums it is handing out, and extremely low administrative costs. Of each dollar given more than 99 cents is spent by the recipient.

It operates as a social investment bank, run by an independent public-private board, focused on results. It does not propose or run programmes but invites applications which are technically assessed and, if approved, awarded grants. It works closely with country governments and local organisations but maintains an arms length approach leaving them to design all the proposals and implementation plans for how to spend the money.

Grants are approved for five years with two years money given up front. After two years the results are assessed and if performance is poor the grant is withdrawn.

The fund provides more than 20 per cent of all spending to fight HIV/Aids and two thirds of spending on malaria and tuberculosis. So far it has approved funding of $8.7bn for 450 programmes in 136 countries which together have saved two million lives.

'I know I can survive. I look forward to living': Rose Rwabasinga, 45

Rose's is a riches-to-rags story, a steady downhill slide into poverty driven by the cost of Aids treatment. It has been repeated a million times across Africa, but in her case it has a happy or at least not catastrophic ending, thanks to (RED).

Her full name is Rose Rwabasinga and she was diagnosed with HIV in 1996, shortly after the death of her husband from Aids. She lives in Kigali, Rwanda, with her three children and once worked as a civil servant, enjoying a modest but adequate income.

In 2000 she began antiretroviral treatment, paying for her own drugs. But the cost was more than she could afford on her civil servant's salary, and as her health declined she had to find other ways to make ends meet.

"First I sold my car and was then able to buy the drugs for two years. Then, because I was no longer working, I sold my piece of land to keep my children in school and continue buying drugs. It was a disaster. I had nothing left to sell and yet was too weak to work. I felt we were doomed."

Like many of her contemporaries, she lost all hope and considered suicide. She was saved by the Global Fund for Aids, Malaria and Tuberculosis, supported by (RED), which in 2003 made its first grant to Rwanda.

"The medicines arrived in January 2004. Finally we really could get treatment . Now I keenly follow the doctors orders and I feel physically fit. Now I know I can survive for 15 years or more. I look forward to living."

Rose, now aged 45, is one of 34,000 people currently receiving treatment with anti-retroviral drugs in Rwanda. There are still not enough drugs to go round an estimated 48,000 people need them. The Global Fund grant to Rwanda has so far received $14m of (RED) money.

'Going great, with free treatment': Thembi Nkambule, 32

Swaziland has the highest HIV rate in the world. More than a quarter (26 per cent) of its adult population of 500,000 is infected. Thembi Nkambule, 32, is one of them. She comes from the rural area known as Louive in the Manzini district and is lucky to be alive.

She was diagnosed in December 2002, after months of declining health during which she developed pneumonia and tuberculosis. By then the infection was advanced her CD4 count, a measure of the white blood cells which are killed by the virus was 18 which is extremely low. She needed urgent treatment which her doctor immediately prescribed. But when she went to buy it and discovered the cost 550 lilangeni (40) she hesitated.

"I held on to the prescription for over a month until the end of January 2003. I started taking it in February but it was not until later when I was told of the Global Fund programme where treatment was provided free. I enrolled and since then I have been going great."

Pineapple farm offers a lifeline to a mother: Dorcas Mireku, 21

People with HIV not only need drugs, they also need help to feed themselves and their families, find work, and care for their children.

Dorcas, a 41-year-old Ghanaian mother of a 17-year-old boy, has been on antiretrovirals for three years. She is perfectly groomed and looks much younger than her years.

Every Saturday she goes to work on the farm at the Wisdom Association in Medie, where 67,000 spiky pineapple plants are growing. When mature, the association's 300 members will turn them into juice.

It is the only work Dorcas has. Although her life is hard, the Wisdom Association has been her lifeline. As well as offering work, it provides a haven for people with HIV, offering acceptance, advice and understanding in an environment that can be hostile, judgmental and discriminatory towards people with HIV.

In addition to pineapple growing, the association runs sewing and craft groups, and in one corner of the farm, breeds grass cutters. These are guinea-pig like creatures considered a local delicacy which fetch high prices in local markets.

Members choose the activities they are interested in and then take responsibility for making them work, earning a living for themselves and strengthening the local community.

The Wisdom Association is one of 700 support groups which receives funding from the National Aids Control Programme.

The Global Fund contribution is administered by the Ghanaian Ministry of Health which channels most of the cash into the NACP.