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Global Fund debunks fraud allegations in Nigeria’s HIV fund management

In clarifications to recent widespread reports, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has denied misappropriation or fraud in the fund it made available for managing HIV treatment and prevention activities in Nigeria.

Jean-Thomas Nouboussi, the Global Fund portfolio manager for Nigeria in a reaction to media enquiries regarding allegations of fraud and misappropriation of HIV fund management in the country made the clarification.

What was termed as fraud was mere audit review; and not an investigative report that can establish fraud or misappropriation or any other problems, Nouboussi said in a statement made available by Christy Feig, head of Communications Department, External Relations and Communications, Global Fund headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

The statement explained that there are differences between an audit review, which is periodically carried out to examine the design and adequacy of internal control mechanisms and risk management processes, and an investigation, which is usually a more comprehensive study of all the records to examine whether fraud or misappropriation has occurred.

While stressing that Global Fund’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has several tools to ensure investments achievethe most impact possible, it insisted that “there was no fraud or misappropriation of Global Fund funds identified in the review”.

Feig, who made the entire report of Global Fund’s OIG’s audit review available, also admitted that audit reports can be quite technical and complex to read through.

Global Fund was also effusive in its praise for Nigeria, saying the country has a success story to be proud of in HIV and malaria management.

“An audit mainly examines the design and adequacy of internal controls, governance and risk management processes of the auditee. This includes adherence to national and implementers’ policies.”

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An investigation is a comprehensive and careful study of the records to examine whether fraud or misappropriation of funds as well as other problems took place. As this was an audit, there was no fraud or misappropriation of Global Fund funds identified in the review, he said.

“Nigeria is an important country for our work to end HIV, TB and malaria. As you will see in the report, our grants there are mostly performing well across the three diseases. The Global Fund commends Nigeria for the progress the country is making in the fight against the three diseases. HIV performance has improved greatly, with 90 percent of people living with HIV knowing their status, 98 percent of those who know their HIV-positive status on treatment and 95 percent of those on treatment having suppressed viral loads. Because of this progress, HIV infections have decreased by 28 percent over the last 10 years,” he explained further.

“During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Nigeria’s ability to innovate and adapt made it one of the few countries in the world that had positive progress in HIV. When COVID-19 struck in Nigeria in 2020, many clinical facilities were swiftly turned into COVID-19 isolation centers. The country acted quickly to bring HIV services closer to the people. Integrating health services meant that when community health workers were out looking for cases of COVID-19, they were also looking for cases of HIV and TB.

“That led to an unexpected success: While HIV testing dropped drastically worldwide in 2020 due to COVID-19, Nigeria was one of the few countries to achieve an increase in the number of people diagnosed with HIV in 2020 compared to 2019. Nigeria has a good story to tell with its work to combat HIV, TB and malaria. I know the audits can be quite technical and complex to read through, so I hope some of these statistics help with your work,” Feig said.

Recently, there were reports of purported misappropriation of $19.6 million worth of COVID-19 procurement grants awarded to Nigeria by the Global Fund – an allegation the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) has roundly refuted.

The Director-General of NACA, Dr Aliyu Gambo, described media reports of alleged fraud of HIV management fund as “lacking in facts, misleading to the public and capable of inflicting reputational damage on the country”.

Gambo added: “The Global Fund, an international financing and partnership organisation has worked closely with NACA for several years, to end the HIV/AIDs epidemic and also to enable the country achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. This mutual relationship has been strengthened because of NACA’s demonstration of high-level integrity and capacity for transparency, accountability and efficient management of resources.

“It is on verifiable record that under NACA Procurement processes, especially through the Global Fund, there is zero tolerance for fraud because of the layers of filtering of the process and compliance culture already established. All processes are guided by the PPA 2007, the Global Fund Manual and extant circulars respectively. In addition to internal controls and supervision in NACA, all procurement undertaken are subjected to verification and clearance by the Fiscal agent embedded in NACA by the Global Fund as well as final approval and continuous supervision by the Global Fund Country Team in Geneva. Needless to add that all processes are finally reviewed and signed off by the Inspector General’s Office as required by law.”

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