Over the weekend, the Associated Press filed a story about corruption involving a small number of grants made by the Global Fund, an international partnership that channels funds to fight AIDS, TB and malaria from donors, like the United States, to some of the poorest countries in the world. It's always interesting to me when stories create news with misused facts and salacious headlines. So I thought it might be useful to have a little background and perspective from someone who's spent a lot of time with the Global Fund.
The AP report was correct in saying that the Global Fund's Inspector General has taken an aggressive approach to rooting out and publicizing incidents of fraud and abuse, but the story erred by extrapolating the findings in a few countries to tarnish the entire grant portfolio. Let's put this to rest: there is absolutely no evidence that there is widespread fraud or corruption of Fund grants. On the contrary, of the $13 billion disbursed by the Global Fund to date, only a portion has been audited by the Global Fund's inspector general, and of that only a relatively small amount -- US $43 million -- has been rescinded.
Now just because the percentage of grants found to be misused is relatively small doesn't mean it's okay -- just the opposite. That's still a lot of money, and it should piss off anyone who cares about the world's poorest. We should not rest until all taxpayer supported programs can report no misuse of funds -- including those administered right here at home.
While I was thinking about this over my morning coffee, I spied a New York Times front-page article that started, "Since the government took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, taxpayers have spent more than $160 million defending the mortgage finance companies and their former top executives in civil lawsuits accusing them of fraud." Now I'm willing to bet that all those gloating over the Global Fund stories won't get nearly so exercised about this kind of pervasive corruption.
I also don't want to fall into the trap of denying there are problems. We will undoubtedly hear about other instances of abuse. So I'm thankful that the Global Fund and its partners, especially the countries that desperately need the money, take this all very seriously.
There's already lots of work underway to continue to make improvements. The Fund is pursuing suspected corruption aggressively, usually in close cooperation with local authorities: corrupt officials are going to jail, funds are being returned, new safeguards are being put in place. At the same time, the Global Fund is working hard to strike a balance, continuing its policy of zero tolerance for corruption while not becoming so risk adverse that it can't get its job done.
So in the end what's the conclusion? We should celebrate the openness of the Global Fund, even if the information it provides can be abused. We should fight hard to support programs that improve global health AND governance and transparency -- fighting for funds needed to save lives and at the same time to build robust systems and checks and balances needed to guaranty their effective use. And we should feel proud that we've helped the Global Fund weather this storm and continue its amazing work to save lives.
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