New chief of Global Fund says accountability is ‘imperative’

November 15, 2017

LONDON (AP) — The new executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria says he is committed to ensuring the group is as transparent as possible about how its billions of dollars are spent to fight the three killer diseases.

The Global Fund’s board appointed Peter Sands to be its new chief on Tuesday. Sands, a Briton, is a former chief executive officer of Standard Chartered Bank.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Sands said it was “absolutely imperative” that the fund be able to demonstrate that the $4 billion it gives out annually to about 100 countries is used appropriately.

“In places where infrastructure and governance issues are challenging, we have to be thoughtful about how we operate,” he said. Sands said he had already spoken to the Fund’s Inspector General and would be looking to tap into insights his office has gathered about how to effectively track grants. “We shouldn’t be content with gaps in accountability,” he said.

The Global Fund is a partnership between governments, civil society and the private sector and gets most of its funds from donor countries. It has raised $13 billion for the 2017-2019 period, a rare increase in public health funding.

It has been plagued, however, by corruption scandals that it has uncovered itself in recent years; since 2002, more than $111 million has gone missing. That figure is less than 1 percent of the $36 billion the fund has distributed in total. Of the missing $111 million, just over $70 million has been recovered.

In some ways, the fund’s own transparency draws attention — few other international health agencies, including the World Health Organization, are as aggressive in reporting how their resources are used or attempt to claw back stolen goods.

In a September report, the Global Fund found “gaps in internal financial control systems” in its Cambodia project, noting that the accounting software being used by the government was “very weak” and allowed officials to change payroll and other sensitive information without approval. Another report issued that same month on Burkina Faso revealed the Fund had spent more than 70,000 euros ($82,895) buying faulty motorbikes intended for use in a tuberculosis program.

Sands said he was excited to take over the Global Fund and aims to work toward eliminating the epidemics of AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, in line with previously stated United Nations goals.

Although numerous health experts have doubted whether the three diseases can ever be truly wiped out — given the lack of effective vaccines for AIDS and malaria and the resistance problem in tuberculosis — Sands said setting the target was a worthy goal.

“It really puts into focus what we need to do to help people worldwide.”