Global Fund overhaul is well underway

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Dr. Christoph Benn, director of Resource Mobilization and Donor Relations at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, updated global health community advocates Wednesday on the recent tumult at the multilateral organization.

Since Columbian banker Gabriel Jaramillo was appointed to head up the Fund in January, the Secretariat has been consumed with “internal changes” to include the review and revision of all 600 staff job descriptions and duties, Benn said. For those not lucky enough to secure one of the new positions, a number had to leave, and others had to compete for existing slots. Benn said it was a “painful process” and that there are a number of positions still open for which they are currently recruiting and hope to have filled in the next two months.

The shake-up resulted in 65 percent of staff now working on the Secretariat’s “core mandate” of grant management, 10 percent on investment and impact (which strongly supports grant management), and the rest in operations support for grant management (which includes human resources, finance, resource mobilization, donor relations, etc.).

Benn said they were pleased with President Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget request to Congress, which calls for increasing the U.S. contribution to the Global Fund by 57 percent to $1.65 billion, keeping the U.S. on track to meet its pledge of $4 billion over three years. But, when prompted by a question from a community advocate, Benn expressed disappointment in proposed cuts to other areas of global development, particularly the flagship U.S. bilateral AIDS program the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The president’s request includes a $543 million cut to the PEPFAR program.

“We don’t want to benefit at the expense of anyone else, we want to see successful programs,” Benn said. He went on to iterate that in practice, at country level, these programs are pretty much integrated and you cannot speak about PEPFAR and Global Fund interventions – let alone a patient here or a patient there – separately. “We are jointly supporting mostly national programs,” Benn said. They have a division of labor where they jointly take care of the capacity building, the training, the provision of services, the support of clinics, as well as the procurement and distribution of drugs, commodities, and so on. “Our joint challenge is to maintain and scale up these programs.”

Benn also said that the overhaul of the Secretariat – especially the new focus on improving assessment of grant risk and management – has been received positively by donors. “There is an increased level of confidence,” he said, adding that donors will need to see evidence that these programs really are working better. “We have to deliver on that.”

The new risk management framework will include a detailed analysis of risk in any given country and the Fund will design risk mitigation measures before an investment is made. “We don’t tolerate any corruption, but obviously we are not working in a risk-free environment. We have to analyze it, put measures into place to mitigate it, and disperse the money,” Benn said.

The deadline for submitting proposals via the Transitional Funding Mechanism (TFM) –  which was put in place in November as a replacement for Round 11 funding and allows only for the continuation of programs already receiving Global Fund support – was last week, Benn said. They have the proposals in house and hope to know the overall amount requested by countries in the next two weeks or so, at which time they plan to announce the level of resources available.

Benn said the Secretariat plans to reassess the TFM once they have determined the success of procuring additional funding pledges, in which case they could go beyond the TFM parameters and encourage countries to submit new proposals that do not just support a continuation of programs.

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