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Jeremy Laurance: Why RED can boost Global Fund and its war on HIV

We are at the start of a new era in private charitable support for the world's poor, says Professor Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund. The Independent's decision to donate half of today's cover price to RED in support of the fund is a signal of that changed approach.

In four years the fund has raised billions of pounds from governments for the fight against Aids but it lacks the public profile of big international charities.

Professor Feachem said: "I hope that Independent readers will think RED, bank RED, shop RED, and phone RED and thereby express solidarity with the women and children in Africa who are struggling to overcome the scourge of HIV/Aids. Buying today's Independent is a great start. If the public embraces RED it will send a strong message to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to maintain and increase the high level of government support for the Global Fund."

Raising money for disasters has been relatively easy compared with the task of funding long-term development work. The response to the 2004 tsunami broke all charity records, but tackling Aids will take decades and the fund was set up to find new ways to sustain support over such periods.

The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria was launched at the G8 meeting in Genoa in 2001, after calls from African heads of state and the UN General Assembly. It started work in January 2002 and in four years has grown to be the largest financer of the drive against the three most devastating diseases in the developing world with commitments of $10bn in 130 countries. So far, $2.2bn has been paid out.

The fund is based in Geneva with a total staff of 200 ­ tiny by comparison with the sums it is distributing. Its administrative costs of 1.4 per cent are almost eliminated by the interest on the cash passing through its accounts. Of each dollar given, more than 99 cents is spent by the recipients.

Uniquely, the Global Fund 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.

Grants are approved for five years with two years' money given up front. After two years the results are assessed. If performance is poor the grant is withdrawn. Professor Feachem calls this the "tough love" approach. Two grants have been pulled from Nigeria and funds have been withheld from South Africa and Senegal, amounting to $200m in all. Funding was also temporarily suspended in Uganda after evidence of fraud emerged.

But demands on the fund have outstripped its capacity to finance them ­ by up to $1bn this year and "much more" next year, Professor Feachem said. "RED opens up a real possibility of significant private contributions. We have been searching for a vehicle that would allow corporations and ordinary people to identify with and contribute to the fight against HIV/Aids in Africa. RED is the breakthrough."