In dizzying but unrelated decisions today, the board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria hired a new executive director and fired its inspector general.
The fund, which has doled out $23 billion since 2002 to finance treatment and prevention of these three diseases in resource-limited countries, today announced that Mark Dybul will take the helm. "It's an incredible opportunity," says Dybul, who helped design and then ran the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a multibillion dollar bilateral program financed by the U.S. government. "The fund is on this very strong forward trajectory."
Over the past 2 years, the fund—which receives the bulk of its money from the United States, Europe, and Japan—has had some rocky times, including internal discord, revelations of misuse of funds by grantees, and critical press accounts of the corruption. The previous director, Michel Kazatchkine, quit in January after the board hired a general manager because of its concerns about his leadership. The board also had misgivings about the fund's inspector general, John Parsons—who insiders say frequently clashed with Kazatchkine—and put him on probation in November 2011. The board announced today that it was firing Parsons because of "unsatisfactory" work, saying it based its assessment on both internal and external reviews and a report by the board's audit and ethics committee. Parsons could not be reached for comment. Dybul said there was "categorically" no connection between his hiring and Parsons's termination.
Dybul has wide support and, given the economic downturn facing the major donor countries and concerns about the fund's management, serious challenges ahead. "The best candidate has won," says Peter Piot, the head of the London School of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene who formerly served as a Global Fund board member when he ran the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. Dybul, he says, can restore confidence in the fund, which has struggled to raise enough money to meet demands. Some major donors temporarily backed away from the fund last year because of concerns about recipients misusing grants and how the organization monitored the corruption. "This is a life and death situation for the Global Fund," Piot says.
Bill Gates, whose foundation strongly supports the fund—it has contributed $650 million and committed another $750 million—issued a statement praising Dybul. "I'm confident that Mark will maximize the life-saving potential of every dollar invested in the Global Fund while also ensuring that developing countries take greater ownership of the fight against AIDS, TB, and malaria," Gates said. "When we invest in the Global Fund, we save millions of lives, and few people understand the Global Fund's incredible potential as a force for good better than Mark."
Dybul says he well recognizes that there has been a "financial contraction" in world economies, but says the traditional donors have money and that he also will explore new financing possibilities. "There will be money for organizations that actually are high value for money and high impact," he says. "We're at a unique moment in time where science has given us the ability to completely control these three diseases. That's pretty compelling."