As “most improved” for transparency among U.S. agencies, PEPFAR is one to watch in 2015

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Birxati3With obstacles to information on how the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief planned, spent, and tallied the worth of its funding earning the world’s largest public health initiative a “very poor” rating last year on the 2013 Aid Transparency Index — well below the U.S. Military —  the agency’s “fair” rating earned this year, and revealed in early October, was something to celebrate.

Accepting congratulations for PEPFAR’s new status as “most improved” for transparency among all U.S. agencies, and among the most improved worldwide on the ranking produced by Publish What You Fund, the Global Campaign for Aid Transparency,  U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Deborah Birx appeared at a launch of 2014 Aid Transparency Index last month to explain how some success against the pandemic in recent years had made data sharing more important than ever.

“In changing the dynamic, it’s created that space, the feeling that we’re done,” she said. “And we’re not done.”

Making data publicly available and comprehensible is critical to “linking the financing to results,” she said. She also noted that other donors need to know how PEPFAR is spending its resources to better spend their own, avoiding duplication and filling gaps.

“It has to be granular to be really helpful,” she said. Collecting and making site level data available, she acknowledged, is where she has met “some resistance.”

A continually diminishing pool of resources to both do all that needs to be done and report it, remain challenging as well, she said, “It was a little shocking when I came in to be poor!”

Still, with a repeated emphasis on “Accountability, impact and transparency,” since taking office last April, Birx has presided over the launch of PEPFAR’s data “dashboards” an unprecedentedly accessible and user-friendly portal to country level and program level data on spending as well as impact and expenditure analysis downloadable as spread sheets — one of the criteria for scoring on the transparency index. More dashboards, PEPFAR has promised, are in the works. In addition PEPFAR data is now available, through information provided by the U.S. State Department, on the International Aid Transparency Initiative registry, a summary of PEPFAR’s 2014 score notes. Information on activities available in PEPFAR’s Country Operation Plans also has improved, the summary notes, with “fewer redactions compared to previous years.” Still, according to the summary, PEPFAR still falls short on some information, and “performs poorly for the provision of project documents.” Recommendations include that PEPFAR publish to the IATI registry under its own title, enabling users of the registry to find PEPFAR information and compare it to that of other organizations on the registry, and that it include more comprehensive information on activities, performance, results and conditions.

All of which, with a leap from last year’s opaque #50 spot (out of 67 — with the last place spot held by China last year and this) to this year’s clear but cloudy #30 ranking, could make the coming year an informative one.

“We’re happy to be fair, but we’re at the bottom of fair,” Birx said last month, “So we still have a way to go.”

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