ISLAMABAD: The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, an international financing and partnership organization, has said a major Pakistani hospital had committed a $4.2 million procurement fraud in a grant to eradicate tuberculosis (TB), the world’s deadliest infectious disease.
The findings of the Global Fund’s investigation raise serious questions about Pakistan’s ability to fight TB, especially as it battles a deadly second wave of the coronavirus. The World Health Organization has already warned that the COVID-19 pandemic was derailing global efforts to tackle tuberculosis, with cases likely to rise without urgent action and investment.
Pakistan — which records an estimated 510,000 new TB cases each year, with approximately 15,000 people developing drug resistant TB strains annually — is ranked fifth among high-burden countries worldwide. It also accounts for 61 percent of the TB burden in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region.
The Global Fund’s Office of the Inspector General conducted an investigation into procurement fraud activities committed by The Indus Hospital TB Program in Pakistan between January 2016 and December 2018 and last month published its report, which is exclusively available with Arab News.
“The investigation uncovered $4.2 million in non-compliant expenses,” the Fund said in an email response to questions from Arab News.
The organization mobilizes and invests more than $4 billion a year to support programs run by local experts in more than 100 countries, including Pakistan, to fight tuberculosis, AIDS and malaria. It has disbursed over $697 million to Pakistan since 2003, and is the country’s biggest donor for HIV/AIDS and TB.
“The Global Fund strongly condemns the acts of fraud committed by The Indus Hospital TB Program,” the organization said, saying it had cut off the Indus Hospital as of December 31, 2020, and was transferring activities to Mercy Corps and the National TB Program, both of whom were existing grant recipients, to ensure lifesaving TB programs continued uninterrupted.
Dr. Nasim Akhtar, the Pakistan government's national program manager for TB, said the Global Fund had exposed the fraud through its “own mechanism for transparency” as part of its monitoring and evaluation of funds. “The Indus Hospital is no more a recipient of the grant; it is an embarrassment for us,” she said. “We are now undertaking different administrative changes to make utilization of the funds transparent.”
The CEO of Indus Hospital, however, rejected any possibility of fraud, saying the hospital had a “strict mechanism” to utilize funds.
“We have responded to the investigation report and let’s see how they [The Global Fund] take it,” Dr. Abdul Bari Khan at The Indus Hospital, told Arab News.
WHO has said the South Asian nation of 220 million is estimated to have the fourth highest prevalence of multi-drug resistant TB cases globally due to delays in diagnosis, unsupervised, inappropriate and inadequate drug regimens, poor follow-up and a lack of a social support programs for high-risk populations.
An estimated 45,300 — 44,000 HIV negative people and 1,300 HIV positive people — die from TB in Pakistan each year.
“The country has made good progress in the fight against malaria, but significant challenges remain in TB and HIV,” the Fund said.
Arab News reported in August last year that The Global Fund had expressed dissatisfaction over the utilization of its grants in Pakistan and decided to invoke the Additional Safeguard Policy (ASP) to ensure “accountable use” of the funds.