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Kazatchkine to become new head of Global Fund

French doctor Michel Kazatchkine spoke during a press conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, in this Aug. 30, 2004 file photo.
French doctor Michel Kazatchkine spoke during a press conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, in this Aug. 30, 2004 file photo. (AP Photo)

WASHINGTON -- Michel Kazatchkine, France's AIDS ambassador and a Harvard-educated doctor specializing in infectious diseases, was selected today as the new head of the $7 billion Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Kazatchkine, 60, takes over an organization that in just over five years has provided grants to 450 programs in 136 countries, accounting for two-thirds of all international funding against TB and malaria, and 20 percent of global funding to fight AIDS.

The organization, according to many global health experts, is facing the challenge of assessing the effectiveness of its funding in many countries that lack basic medical infrastructure.

In addition, a recent report by the fund's inspector general raised concerns about excessive spending by the management of the Geneva-based organization.

Kazatchkine was one of two finalists for the job last November -- the other was Michel Sidibe, a senior UN AIDS official -- but the board was unable to reach a decision. In today's vote, he was selected over David Nabarro, who is currently leading the United Nations' fight against avian flu; and Alex Coutinho, executive director of a network of clinics that is treating 50,000 people in Uganda.

Kazatchkine will replace outgoing director Richard G.A. Feachem at the end of March.

Kazatchkine told reporters after his selection that he wanted to improve the Global Fund's partnerships with UN organizations and donors such as the US government, which is the largest contributer to the fund. He said he also hoped the grants would help not only fight the three infectious diseases, but improve health systems in poor settings.

Kazatchkine said he wanted the money to ``have a positive spillover effect in helping fight other diseases. That strengthening can only happen through partnerships.''

He declined to comment on the inspector general's report because he has not read it. He said it would be up to the board to determine whether to release the report. But he added that he told the board during his job interview that ``I want to have the highest standards in terms of ethics.''

J. Stephen Morrison, head of the Africa Program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, worked with Kazatchkine last year to organize a conference on US and European cooperation on AIDS. Morrison said he was impressed with Kazatchkine's diplomatic skills.

``He was consciously and systematically trying to make the point he was a good bridging figure'' with the United States, Morrison said. ``But this Global Fund job is a tough job. It's out of the start-up phase and seems to be in a phase where people are asking all the hard questions like, `What are the results?' and `Are they getting the money out the door?' ''

From 1977 to 1981, Kazatchkine lived on Walker Street in Cambridge while doing post-doctoral work at Brigham and Women's Hospital as a member of Harvard's Immunology Department.

``It was one of the best times of my life,'' Kazatchkine said. ``I still have my `I Survived the Blizzard of '77' T-shirt.''

Two years later, in 1983, in France, he treated a young French couple returning from Africa with high fever and immune deficiency. In 1985, he set up an AIDS clinic in Paris, and has been treating patients ever since.

He said today he will have to give that up. ``It is something I will miss,'' he said, adding that his new job will be all consuming.

John Donnelly can be reached at donnelly@globe.com

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