The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria held its twice yearly Board Meeting May 14-15, 2020—virtually.  Global Fund Executive Director Peter Sands observed that COVID-19 threatens continued progress against the AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria epidemics.  At this early stage high impact grants (large investments in high disease burden countries) have not been knocked too far off track, though the supply chains team and partners are preparing for expected interruptions and delays. As Country Coordinating Mechanisms (CCMs) face the daunting challenge of responding to COVID-19 while working remotely, the Global Fund Board and staff emphasized that affected populations, and civic and faith-based partners must continue to have a voice in decision-making and implementation, and human rights must continue to be a priority.

The Global Fund’s mission is clear, and Sands drove home the importance of outcomes, saying the Global Fund partnership must strive to hit the current AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria targets despite COVID-19. The Global Fund is involved in equitably distributing diagnostics and therapeutics as part of the Access to COVID Tools (ACT) Accelerator, and its procurement platform Wambo is serving as a vital and familiar tool for countries to attain supplies to respond to COVID-19. The Secretariat will be seeking a Board Decision for a temporary expansion of how countries can use Wambo to procure vetted, affordable commodities with non-Global Fund resources. Through grant flexibilities and the COVID-19 Response Mechanism (C19RM), the Global Fund has made available two tranches of $500 million to prevent COVID-19 from undermining the AIDS, TB and malaria responses, and invited donors to add to it. 

Much discussion focused on development of the next Global Fund Strategy by the end of 2021. Attention will remain on addressing the four pillars of the 2017-2022 strategy, continuity and preventing COVID-19 from reversing progress, but full stakeholder consultations (if virtual) will commence as planned. Civil society delegate Rico Gustav was tapped as the new head of the Strategy Committee.

Ambassador Birx, White House Coronavirus Coordinator and PEPFAR chief during the last two Administrations, participated both days, including during the dialogue on the next strategy. Birx commended the Global Fund for significant help in recent years to developing countries strengthening health systems to fight HIV, TB and malaria, which is helping them grapple with COVID-19 as disruptor to progress on them. She stressed the need to address COVID-19’s massive impact on economically disadvantaged nations and individuals overcoming the three diseases.

Sands emphasized that controls and Inspector General monitoring will be robust as the Global Fund helps implementing countries mitigate COVID-19’s impact on the HIV, TB and malaria responses. Inspector General Mouhamadou Diagne confirmed that. His annual report reflected “enormous progress,” such as for developing business partnerships boosting impact, and stakeholders’ satisfaction ratings the highest to date, while flagging the need for greater progress on HIV prevention interventions and less staff risk aversion. His term ends soon, and he’ll remain in place until the end of August (before becoming World Bank Vice President for Integrity). The Board approved a Decision Point facilitating dispatch in a search for a new, equally independent IG.