Global Fund faces pressure for new measures on sexual exploitation and harassment

It took two years to investigate. Finally last week allegations that executives from the Ghana Network Association of People Living with HIV (NAP+) traded sex and money in exchange for HIV-related services between 2010 and 2019 were confirmed and made public by the Geneva-based Global Fund, one of NAP+ funders. The Global Fund is a partnership between the public and private sectors and civil society.

“The Global Fund’s governance policy framework in relation to protection from sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment (SEAH) is inadequate."

Released last Friday, the report entitled “Misconduct affecting Global Fund grants” concludes that “multiple NAP+ executives demanded that program members engage in sexual conduct or provide financial kickbacks in order to access events and benefits supported by grant funds, which constituted corrupt and coercive practices. The executives tacitly and openly enabled each other to perpetuate an exploitative and abusive culture.”

The document denounces “a culture of sexual and financial exploitation,” a NAP+ where representatives “abused their position of power.”

Forty-three material witnesses were interviewed by the Office of the Inspector General, the Global Fund’s internal auditor. “Nine program participants reported that they had been sexually exploited and/or abused by eight NAP+ national and regional executives in connection with grant activities between 2010 and 2019,” the investigators write.

“Twenty-nine witnesses reported knowing of systemic sexual exploitation and abuse by NAP+ executives of female program participants, including six current or former NAP+ staff or executives. The witnesses named 19 additional women believed to have been sexually exploited by, or transactionally involved with, NAP+ executives. Event attendance data supported the perception that sexual conduct was the price of entry to NAP+ events, as these 19 women attended far more than the average number of events,” the report details.

The independent Office of the Inspector General had harsh words for the Global Fund: “The Global Fund’s governance policy framework in relation to protection from sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment (SEAH) is inadequate. The organization operates without a meaningful framework to prevent, prohibit, detect, or respond to SEAH in its programs, an issue that has been highlighted in previous OIG reports.”

Responding to the investigation’s findings, Executive Director Peter Sands stated that “the Global Fund has zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse—and for coercive, collusive or corrupt behavior of any kind,” adding that “beyond the findings relating to these specific abuses, this report challenges us to accelerate the approach the Secretariat uses to manage the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse.”