By Ken Hackett
President, Catholic Relief Services
It is no surprise that in the current budget cutting climate sweeping over Washington that many have taken aim at foreign aid, long a favorite target that is easy to demagogue no matter what the evidence to the contrary. Whipping up the frenzy recently was a report about corruption in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, an international public/private partnership that attracts and disperses funds to fight these diseases.
Opponents of foreign aid who are using this news ignore the fact that it was the Global Fund itself that found and exposed the corruption and took measures to root it out. And that while the misuse of funds was deplorable, it was a tiny percentage of the Fund's overall expenditures.
Michael Gerson ably defended the Global Fund in a recent column in the Washington Post. We would like to add to his the voice of Catholic Relief Services, where we have been implementing programs underwritten by the Global Fund since it began in 2002. We know how important the Fund is to the health and well-being of millions of people around the world, both in combating diseases and strengthening public and faith-based health systems.
Working with the Global Fund, CRS has treated more than 2 million children in Benin for malaria and distributed nearly 3 million mosquito nets in Niger. More than 70 percent of women in Niger who are pregnant -- when malaria is particularly dangerous -- now sleep under nets. This is saving countless lives.
CRS can also attest to the Global Fund's rigorous financial controls which uncovered this corruption. It must be recognized that no human endeavor is perfect. You can find corruption at all levels of society, from bribery in governments and defense contractors to embezzlement in small businesses and even local PTAs. Yet rarely does anyone use the discovery of corruption to question the essential worth of these institutions. They root it out, make appropriate changes, and get back to work. Which is what the Global Fund is doing.
Opponents of foreign aid like to paint it as wasted money that does nothing good for America. The fact is, foreign aid is working. Look at the countries of Africa, for instance; they have some of the fastest growing economies in the world. One reason is because of the work of groups like the Global Fund, because good health is a foundation of economic development.
Denying the Global Fund support because of its efforts to uncover and end corruption would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, though in this case it would literally mean denying millions of babies around the world the lifesaving medicines and care they need to reach their human potential.