The board of Global Fund, an international aid financing organization, has approved a new $41.7 million grant for work related to tackling tuberculosis and malaria in North Korea, a spokesperson told NK News on Thursday.
The fund, which prompted widespread concern last year when announced it was ending a multi-million dollar DPRK project, is ready to launch the project pending approval from the North Korean government, they added.
Global Fund previously supported two DPRK projects — one focused on tuberculosis and another aimed at combating the spread of malaria — and was considered a vital source in addressing such health issues due to the amount of money it was providing.
But February last year saw the organization announce it was bringing an end to its North Korea work, stating that the country’s “unique operating environment” had made it difficult to ensure funds were not being misappropriated.
The decision to withdraw last year prompted a wave of criticism from many in the North Korea aid community, with a letter in the medical journal The Lancet urging the NGO against scrapping what was described as “the largest foreign investment in health in North Korea in history.”
But Global Fund’s concerns about accessibility later appeared to have been alleviated, with the organization telling NK News last month that it was considering a return to its work in the DPRK at an unspecified future date.
Those plans are now largely ready to put into action, Seth Faison, head of communications at the fund, told NK News in an email.
“The Global Fund is ready to launch a new grant for tuberculosis and malaria in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and can proceed when the government of DPRK agrees that UNICEF can sign the grant,” he said.
“Following the Global Fund’s engagement with DPRK and potential implementers, the Board of the Global Fund approved a proposed US$41.7 million TB-malaria grant, based on stronger implementation arrangements, including better access to program sites and independent verification,” he added.
The timing of the move is significant, with widespread concerns that dwindling stocks of TB medication — expected to run out next year — would lead to a growth in the multi-drug resistant form of the disease.
One expert welcomed Global Fund’s decision to return to North Korea as “great news.”
“Hopefully implementation can be speedy so there’s no gap between previous stocks and provision of new medication,” Nazanin Zadeh-Cummings, a Lecturer in Humanitarian Studies at Deakin University’s Centre for Humanitarian Leadership, told NK News.
“The perennial issue of access is shown here, but what this also shows is the transactional nature of access in the DPRK – humanitarians need funding to do programs to get access,” she continued.
“While I’m happy to see this news, I hope the rest of the international donor community follows suit and funds more humanitarian programs.”
Edited by James Fretwell
Featured image: OCHA/Anthony Burke