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"Culture is the heritage of us all. some may be more interested than others in the treasures of the past, but no one can fail to take a pride in his country's participation in the story of mankind, as represented in carvings, sculpture, music, paintings and the other arts. And there is a personal commitment to this, for no man can really say he is alone: we are all joined through our identity, with the cultures which are part of the mainstream of life"
- Simon Kapwepwe, Zambian Independence Freedom Fighter

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm" - Winston Churchill

"Try to be the rainbow in someone else's cloud" - Maya Angelou

"Your time is limited so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinion drown out your inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition" - Steve Jobs

Saturday, 29 January 2011

The Global Fund - A Victim Of Its Own Transparency?

Over the past week I have been following the media coverage surrounding the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria spurred by an incendiary article published by the Associated Press. They claimed to have the scoop on serious fraud that affects almost two thirds of grants awarded to countries from the USD 13 billion already disbursed of the USD 27.1 billion the Fund currently manages.  This has spurred a lot of press coverage in the US, and culminating in the likes of Fox New's Billy O'Reilly throwing in their 2 cents and at the other end of the spectrum, articles like this one featured in the Huffington Post.

AP acted very irresponsibly.  I would have expected more from such a prestiguous news agency.  The information about the fraud in Mali, Djibouti and Zambia (oh why my country why), amongst others, had already been reported by the Office of the Inspector General at the Global Fund in October and was discussed by the Board in December.  It was on the Global Fund's Website for all to see as this official statement explains. This wasn't a breaking story. And the fraud indicated, while a considerable amount of the funds disbursed to each country, actually amounts to 0.3% of the Global Fund's total grant disbursements of 13 million to date.  This article from the Center for Global Development explains the shoddy reporting and distortion of the truth through statistical convolution clearly.

The Global Fund is the major financier for programs involving AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria around the world and 60% of their grants fund projects on the African continent.  This worries me greatly as news of Sweden threatening to stop funding and big donors like Germany halting funding pending resolution. It is clear that many donors are feeling the pinch and with the furor of articles in the USA, the biggest contributor to the Fund, it seems inevitable that the Fund will not be receiving all the funds that President Obama pledged last year.  If the defense budget in the US is no longer untouchable, it would be foolish to think that money for the disenfranchised far away on the "dark continent" is safe.

Another worrisome thing is that a lot of these articles keep referring to the fact that celebrities back this Fund. Honestly what has that got to do with the price of eggs???!!! They seem to be indicating that even though the Global Fund has tried to model itself differently from the bureaucratic style of the UN and other multilateral organisations, it has failed and we have all been fooled into thinking otherwise by celebrities who know nothing and have just jumped on the bandwagon because it was the trendy thing to do.  I would take this cynical view too if these were just any celebrities clearly would hawk anything for publicity but they are talking of people like Bono and Bill Gates.  These are serious individuals who have gone above and beyond what the average celebrity does and dedicate their time, money, and energy through their own Foundations to partner with the Global Fund.  Bobby Shriver, co-founder of (RED), had this to say in an article co-written with Bono in the Huffington Post.  And Bill Gates issued a statement in support of the Global Fund through his Foundation. Both parties have valid and thoughtful points.

I am glad that the Zambian media are not trying to cover up our government's lack of respect for donors and are acknowledging the shame that comes with being named as corrupt.  Every time I see Zambia in media in this regard I am just so angry.  Why? Why? We are such a tiny nation and usually go unnoticed.  Is this how we want to make ourselves known?! Jeez! The only way to stop people thinking that they can get away with corruption because donors will not stop giving because they are still able to help those in need regardless needs to stop.  This takes away from successes like that of Rwanda who have used the funds they have received wisely and are now on track to achieving universal coverage in providing ARV to all its citizens living with HIV and AIDS.

It is sad to see that in this day an age information has the power to not only empower but to potentially destroy.  In doing the right thing, the Global Fund's information has been manipulated to question its credibility and moreover its usefulness in global health financing and the achievement of the Millenium Development Goals.  Are donors really willing to stop saving lives at all when right now they are saving millions with 99.7% of the money that have been disbursed through the Global Fund around the world? Because withdrawing 100% means condemning millions versus losing thousands of lives to save millions. Military triage is necessary here, we have to cut our loses for the greater gain however painful it may be to think about and ultimatley follow through on. The end does justify the means here. Morality does not have to be absolute here.  If you are corrupt then we will not help is too black and white.  The world is grey. We can still do good while trying to snuff corruption out.  At least the Global Fund is trying to not only operate in the current global climate, but is also simultaneously trying to change it for the better as well.  You have to support an organisation that is trying to do the right thing on both counts and is able to acknowledge failiures.  The World Bank and the UN want to be applauded for doing good without being responsible for accountability for fear of losing donors and they have greater loses. Hmmmm...

I think that what Bill Gates said sums up what the Global Fund has done and why all this harping on about 0.3% of Funds going missing is completely illogical and uncalled for:

"The Global Fund has contributed to unprecedented advances in preventing and treating some of the worst diseases in th world.  We know that dealing with these hard-to-reach places is challenging, but not trying to save these lives is unacceptable."

I leave you to ruminate as this Guardian blog does on whether the Global Fund can weather the storm. And here is a video with Koffi Annan and others explaining just how important this Fund is to tackling AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.  I hope that in the future, the Global Fund implements mechanisms to better deal with corruption at the country level.  Even though it is trying to empower countries by giving them control of their disbursements,  it has to figure out a way to make sure that better mechanisms are in place to deal with fraud and corruption in order to avoid another scandal like this from happening again. Being transparent is admirable, but it can be construed as a way to dodge the responsibility of accountability by using this openness as a scapegoat when things go wrong during the implementation of the grants they approve.

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