One of the world’s largest development funds risks “overstating” the number of lives it has saved and must improve transparency, experts have warned.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which has an annual budget of roughly $4 billion, funds projects around the world to tackle these three deadly diseases.
Ahead of a “replenishment conference” later this year, when the fund will seek to raise $14 billion from donors, the organisation said the projects it finances have saved 27 million lives – roughly three times the population of Switzerland.
But according to experts writing in the Lancet journal, the claim is based on “obscure” methodology, which risks overstating the fund’s role in reducing deaths from HIV/Aids, TB and malaria and taking credit for other people’s work.
“There is no doubt organisations like the Global Fund do great work but to ensure continuous donor investment they need to be more open and honest with their reporting,” said, Dr Rocco Friebel, lead author and Assistant Professor of Health Policy at LSE.
“The methods and underlying data of the modelling exercise conducted by The Global Fund and others should be released and subject to public scrutiny. The organisation should be clear about its methodology, share relevant data and open itself up to peer review.”
“Taking these steps toward openness will instil confidence in partners and lead to more sustainable fundraising for aid relief,” he added.
Founded in 2002, the Global Fund has distributed nearly $40 billion to partners fighting the three diseases.
Some 95 per cent of this money has come from donor countries. In the last funding round in 2016, the United States led the donations with $4.3 billion, around a third of total funding.
The UK was the second largest donor, pledging £1.1 billion, while France pledged €1.08 billion.
“The reality is that the Global Fund has a fantastic record of delivering impact,” Peter Sands, the executive director of the Global Fund, told The Telegraph in a recent interview.
“But we also need to demonstrate that this is a battle that can be won. We can wipe out these diseases and that’s going to be the thrust of our investment case,” he added.
The Lancet article suggests that the fund needs to more rigorously evaluate partner performance and prioritise evidence-based approaches to make a more compelling argument about why countries should invest once again.
“Funders have tough choices to make,” said Amanda Glassman, chief operating officer at the Center for Global Development. “A more grounded and evidence-based assessment of The Global Fund’s actual impacts would help the organisation make its case in the difficult replenishment cycle ahead.”
In response, the Global Fund said it welcomed discussion on how best to measure and report the results of interventions, but stands by the 27 million figure.
“In the methodology for measuring impact, our position is clear. The Global Fund does not create its own disease burden and impact estimates, but uses official estimates derived from models developed and published by technical partners, such as WHO and UNAIDS,” the fund said.
The Global Fund is not alone in being challenged on its reporting. In October an independent watchdog said the UK’s Department for International Development (Dfid) exaggerated the number of lives saved through programmes focused on maternal health and family planning.
Dfid disputes the findings.
By Sarah Newey