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Unfair Criticism of the Global Fund 

Making the rounds this week is an AP story on mismanagement of funds in some grants from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. It’s an important topic: particularly in this economic climate, the question of whether aid is actually being used effectively – let alone just going to line people’s pockets – is clearly central to decisions about funding levels. The Global Fund has already been having fundraising challenges in this past round of renewals, and this clearly won’t help. 

That being said, the article presents an incomplete, misleading picture of the situation. 

To start, the auditor’s report found problems with specific grants, ones that represent a fraction of the Fund’s total distributions. The juxtaposing in the first paragraph of “a $21.7B development fund” and “…as much as two-thirds of some grants eaten up by corruption” makes the reader do quick math and think that $14B and change is being pilfered – not the case at all.

Second, the AP’s story is framed as an “expose” of sorts. The truth is, the auditor’s findings have been publicly available for quite some time, and the Global Fund and in-country law enforcement are already taking action on the specific issues. 

Finally, the AP article left me frustrated in its framing. The headline “Fraud Plagues Global Health Fund Backed by Celebrities” positions the fund as some sort of flash-in-the-pan effort that draws legitimacy only from the support of Bono and the like. Despite its flaws, at the end of the day the GFATM is likely the most transparent and recipient-country-owned funding mechanism the world’s ever seen.

There’s definitely more work to be done on improving internal audits and getting them to cover more grants, but I’d hate for these issues to make the Fund run away from its core principles of responding to country-determined needs and administering funds out of local coordinating mechanisms.

It’s been good to see in the last few days a number of sources pick up on these lines of criticism of the article: see this article, as well as this insightful blog post from Bill Savedoff at CGD.

The field needs to continue to push for efficient, effective, transparent, and accountable funding of global health programs – but the Fund is doing an admirable job on these fronts.