Monday, May 16, 2011

Global Fund Will Not Suppress Discussion of Health Care Corruption

Some good news to discuss, for a change....

We previously discussed losses from corruption reported by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, and by the Health Alliance International here.  At the time, we noted that some experts in health care corruption praised the Global Fund for being transparent about the effects of corruption.

However, last week there was concern that some elements within the Global Fund thought that the best response to losses due to corruption would be hiding them.  As reported by the AP (via CBS): 
A global health fund championed by celebrities and world leaders is considering scaling back its groundbreaking philosophy of full transparency about how it spends billions of dollars in health care in poor countries. Its decision could have broad consequences for the ways international aid groups operate.

Revelations this year by The Associated Press about misspent funds and corruption among recipients of the money — and the donor backlash that has followed — have prompted leaders of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to propose scaling back on the investigations that uncovered the problems, and revealing less about them to donors and the public.

But hardly everyone within Fund leadership wanted to abandon transparency:
The Global Fund's internal watchdog fiercely opposes the proposed changes. In its latest progress report, obtained by the AP, Inspector General John Parsons warns the board that a move toward less transparency 'could be interpreted negatively and as a purposeful effort to suppress material information.'

The president of the board, Ethiopian Health Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, opposes any changes.

'Even the mere appearance of suppression of information is unacceptable. Scaling back, or the perception that we are retreating from, this commitment is something we simply cannot allow,' Tedros said. If anything, he added, 'we should increase our level of transparency.'

Now, it looks like the transparency advocates won, at least in part. As again reported by the AP (via CBS):
A multibillion-dollar fund that fights three killer diseases said Friday that it will make public more detailed information about money it has lost to corruption and mismanagement, but won't release other information critics have sought.

The board of the $22 billion Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria met this week to address a backlash among major donors over revelations by The Associated Press that the fund's internal watchdog was turning up losses of tens of millions of dollars of grant money.

Board members decided to publish detailed accounting of losses and money recovered, the fund said, in an effort to distinguish between fraud and other problems such as poor accounting.

The fund will not, however, provide other details from internal investigations and audits that might have made it possible to calculate how much of the money investigated is lost to corruption, or what percentage of the fund's overall disbursements are misspent.

The fund also is not making public an internal chart obtained by AP showing that in 12 nations where internal audits and investigations reviewed almost $576 million in spending, an average of 8 percent was lost to fraud, undocumented or unauthorized spending.

Still, it is very good news that transparency won out in this case. Maybe the Global Fund leaders' decision will encourage more discussion of the severity of global health care corruption and its negative effects.

On the other hand, it is bad news that even discussion of health care corruption remains controversial. In 2006, Transparency International's Global Corruption Report asserted in its executive summary, " the scale of corruption is vast in both rich and poor countries."  As we summarized here, the report discussed the scale and diversity of health care corruption, and the severity of its adverse effects.  Yet the very subject of global health care corruption remains as anechoic as many of the specific topics we discuss on Health Care Renewal.

Also, as we have noted before, recently here, there are very few if any meetings about global health care corruption, very few courses on it in medical or public health schools, no institutions specifically designed to address it, and no programs at the foundations and NGOs which are losing money to global health corruption to combat it.  Similarly, there are few efforts to promote accountability, integrity, transparency, honesty, and ethics in health care (aside from this blog and a few other similarly informal initiatives.) 

What is wrong with that picture?

We hope that the willingness of the Global Fund to discuss and admit it has a problem with health care corruption will make health care corruption a little less anechoic, and lead us closer to concrete steps to address it.

PS - If anyone in our vast audience does know about any additional anti-corruption or conflict of interest, or pro-accountability, integrity, transparency, honesty and ethics initiatives, courses, meetings relevant to health care, please let me know and I will do my best to disseminate the information.

[Posted on Health Care Renewal by Roy M. Poses MD]


Anonymous said...

We need to look at how all of our public money is spent. The recent charges against the head of the IMF raise the question in my mind of why he was in a $3,000.00 per night room.

We need to not only look at money taken, but also money spent on overhead.

Steve Lucas

Peny@tuning fork said...

This recent news about the head of IMF, and his expenditures, keep bugging me also. Laymen and common people need transparency and accountability from authorities. Public money must be for the public, not for private interest, eh.

Afraid said...

Or Roy, it could be a sophisticated effort to avoid scrutiny by partially admitting failure.

The next thing you may hear is "everything is fixed now, and that nasty stuff is old news."