The GAVI Alliance, which focuses on getting vaccines into low-income countries, has announced that it will suspend cash handouts to some programmes in Niger, Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroon, while it investigates possible misuse of funds. Together with another investigation in Mali – which the Geneva-based global health partnership’s board had already been told about – some $18 million is being looked at.
It’s not unusual for large aid programmes to suffer corruption, but many choose not to publicise, or even examine, fraud cases out of fear of losing donors. One of the most transparent agencies in this regard – the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria – came under fire in February, when media reports highlighted $39 million in fraud. Although the Global Fund itself had already announced the frauds, the media spotlight caused some donors to temporarily suspend future funding pledges. (A Nature editorial praised the Global Fund for its transparency).
It is rarer for such programmes to make such investigations public before they have concluded, as GAVI has here. The alliance has delivered $2.1 billion worth of vaccines and paid $672 million in cash grants between 2000 and 2010 to 45 countries. In 32 previous audits, only one country – Uganda – had been found to have misused cash, to the value of $838,000, which has been repaid.
The affected countries will continue to get vaccines while their cash is suspended. The cash programmes typically go to supporting activities like building clinics, training staff, paying salaries, and improving the vaccine storage and supply chain, says spokesperson Jeffrey Rowland. He says the Mali investigation should be concluded by May, and those in Niger and Cameroon by early July. The political situation in Cote d’Ivoire means an investigation hasn’t yet started there.