Key Takeaways from the Global Fund’s 45th Board Meeting

Over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the Global Fund met virtually on May 11-12 for a biyearly board meeting where Executive Director Peter Sands applauded the organization’s progress and also acknowledged the scale of the challenges it faces.

As of the end of April this year, the Global Fund had approved nearly US$11.7 billion of funding requests for grants, out of a total country allocation of US$12.7 billion. That’s “well ahead” of where the organization was last year at this time, Sands said. Quality has remained extremely high, despite the challenges of remote working and the COVID-19 pandemic. The Technical Review Panel rated 89 percent of funding requests as “good” or “very good”, and highlighted increased attention to critical areas like human rights and gender. In addition, he noted that because the Global Fund was able to repurpose existing grant savings, US$1 billion had been approved to support countries’ responses to COVID-19 since March 2020.

At the same time, Sands said, “COVID-19 has knocked us back across all three diseases. Pandemics like COVID have a dramatic impact on what we’re trying to achieve with AIDS, TB and malaria.”

Board Chair Dr. Donald Kaberuka added that it was the “poor and vulnerable who have suffered beyond measure, in lives and livelihood.” He expressed concerns about the “many unknowns, including the trajectory of the [COVID-19] virus.” Still, he said that the Global Fund’s mission was as relevant as it was 20 years ago, “it is only the context and environment around us that has shifted beyond measure, and we have to adjust.”

In the midst of a spirited debate on the Global Fund’s strategy going forward and where pandemic preparedness and response fit into that, Sands emphasized that “there is no disagreement about how important it is to protect communities we are focused on from threats of other diseases that completely disrupt progress on AIDS, TB and malaria. I do think we have almost an obligation to bring to table all we have learned around what it takes to fight infectious diseases effectively.”

The strategy development process began in 2020. The first year focused on gathering input and evidence from every segment of the partnership, while this year the Global Fund focused on developing the strategy framework and narrative. The version of the framework coming out of this week’s Board meeting will go back to the Strategy Committee ahead of the Extraordinary Board Meeting in July, when the new framework will be finalized and then developed into a full strategy that will go for Board approval in November.

The Board meeting also covered:

  • Secretariat priorities for 2021, which include: mitigating the impact of COVID-19, launching the next cycle of grants, driving efficiency and effectiveness, investing in people, finalizing the next strategy, and preparing for the seventh replenishment conference
  • A report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which indicated that while COVID-19 disrupted work plans and created a more volatile landscape, the Global Fund responded quickly when the pandemic hit, redirecting funds to help countries mitigate impact on AID, TB and malaria programs. The OIG also found the COVID-19 Response Mechanism to be “robust and inclusive, and clearly linked to the Global Fund’s strategic objectives.”
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). While the Secretariat said that the current KPI framework adheres to “clear and rigorous reporting processes” and that the Global Fund is doing well on KPI outcomes, it recommended placing the indictors in a broader integrated monitoring and evaluation framework. The Secretariat proposed four principles to guide the selection of new indicators: importance, integration, accountability and actionability.