The Global Fund to fight Aids, TB and malaria is in financial crisis, HIV groups warned.
They said this was expected to have a severe impact on Southern African HIV programmes for treatment and prevention.
The groups, which include the Budget Expenditure Monitoring Forum, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and Doctors Without Borders, met in Braamfontein to highlight the extent of the problem.
Doctors Without Borders described the recent announcement by the board of the Global Fund on a shortage of funding as shocking.
The Global Fund's money woes left it with no choice but to cancel its Round 11 of new grants allocated to various programmes in a number of countries.
This held the risk of running back the clock on the gains made in the fight against HIV, the groups said.
The board had said the financial problems were mostly because of donors scaling down on commitments and not releasing funds promised to the fund.
A panel comprising representatives from South Africa, Swaziland, Malawi and Zimbabwe bemoaned their countries' plight in light of the Round 11 grants cancellation.
Disaster waiting to happen
It is going to be a disaster if the programmes are not supported, said Safari Mbewe of Malawi.
Sikhulu Matsenjwa of Swaziland said people were worried about what would happen after they ran out of anti-retrovirals (ARVs).
The Global Fund, which is responsible for saving more than seven million lives to date and currently funds half of the people receiving life saving ARV therapy worldwide, is the largest multilateral funder of HIV treatment.
It finances more than 70% of ARVs in the developing world and approximately 85% of TB programmes in Africa.
The cancellation of an entire round of funding was an unprecedented event in its 10-year history, the groups said.
They said the Round 11 cancellation came after two consecutive years during which other HIV donors and programmes scaled back their commitments.
This threatened to interrupt treatment for up to 112,800 patients in Zimbabwe by 2014, and create a shortage of first-line anti-retrovirals in Mozambique by 2012.
Swaziland had already started relying on emergency funding to help supply first-line ARVs until April.
No more funds
Other countries affected include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Lesotho, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia, as some completely relied on the fund.
Dr Eric Goemaere of South Africa said the funding cuts might result in programmes going back to selecting beneficiaries.
He said there were no more funds available to save lives.
Fazil Tezera of Zimbabwe said politicians in his country were making the right decision with regards to HIV programmes, but could not do more without international support.
The bigger issue is not about lack of funds, but broken promises, Section 27's Deygan Eager said.
I am saying this because for example, the US United States last year spent R15 billion a day on its military while R11 million a year was given to saving lives, he claimed.
He also argued that not investing in HIV treatment and prevention now would have a far worse economic impact in the future.
We really need countries in the north who have been giving funding to the Global Fund to continue doing so.
SA increases spending
Eager said South Africa as a leader in the fight against Aids had shown its commitment by increasing spending on it.
The country needed to lend support to its neighbours and urge developed countries to keep their commitments to the Global Fund.
TAC's Nokhwezi Hoboyi called on the South African government to take the lead in urging international donors not to pull out of the Global Fund.
She said the country stood to carry the burden of a number of neighbouring countries' citizens who would flock to its local public hospitals for treatment.
Hoboyi said the TAC had been hosting demonstrations outside the embassies of various countries in South Africa to urge them to keep their commitments to the Global Fund.
(Sapa, November 2011)