Transparency Saves Lives

This week, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria released its investigation report on some of our grants in Mali. It is truly sobering to read how a few individuals, who were tasked with managing two malaria and two tuberculosis programs that should save the lives of thousands of their countrymen and -women, instead systematically worked to defraud these programs, stealing $5 million over several years.

The Global Fund is a $21-billion war chest against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria that has saved more than 6.5 million lives in its nine-year history. Bill Gates described its creation as "one of the best things human beings have done for one another." I find it deeply distressing that people can steal from those who are most in need, and it is hard to understand how the perpetrators can live with themselves. But given that 15 suspects are now in jail awaiting trial, they will, if found guilty, have a lot of time to contemplate why they chose greed over the chance to save lives.

Six months ago, when the Global Fund's own investigations made it clear that money had been lost, we stopped all payments to these grants in Mali -- except for lifesaving drugs -- and demanded that those managing the grants be replaced. Only when new, solid management is in place can we resume transfers of money to these grants. The establishment of new management is well under way.

In this, we are working with the Mali government, and President Amadou Toumani Touré has been the strongest voice for rooting out and cleaning up corruption in his country.

Our investigation also revealed that the Global Fund could have been more vigilant in Mali. But we have learned our lesson. In fact, the Mali case has contributed to the largest reform of grant management at the Global Fund since its inception. We believe that, as a result of these efforts, the Global Fund is now considerably stronger and better prepared to prevent and quickly detect fraud and misuse.

By nature of its mandate, and in order to reach some of the world's most vulnerable populations, the Global Fund works in many countries with governance systems and financial controls that are fragile. In tackling mismanagement, the Global Fund is driven by two core principles: full transparency and zero tolerance for fraud.

The Global Fund stands by full transparency because we believe that our uncompromising attitude to exposing misuse will become a deterrent. People will think twice about stealing from an institution that exposes such thieves publicly. Transparency can be painful, since the world rarely rewards bad news. But as a doctor I know very well that what hurts badly at first will make you stronger. In our case, it will save lives.