Three candidates, including a former chief of Mumbai-based drug maker Cipla Ltd, are in the running to head the powerful Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Sources indicate that the selection committee proposed the following names in order of preference: Nigeria’s Muhammad Ali Pate, Britain’s Subhanu Saxena and New Zealand’s Helen Clark. These names were shortlisted by the nominating committee of the fund’s board on 13 February.
The Global Fund is a partnership founded in 2002 between governments, civil society, the private sector and people affected by the diseases working to accelerate the end of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria as epidemics. It raises and invests about $4 billion annually to support programs in countries most hit by these diseases.
The influential fund launched a search in November for a new chief who will take over from Mark Dybul, the current Executive Director (ED), after he finishes his tenure this year.
Saxena had stepped down as the global CEO of Cipla on 31 August last year citing “family priorities”. Before that, he led the global product strategy and commercialisation functions at Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis AG. He has also worked with Citigroup, Boston Consulting Group and Pepsi Co.
Cipla is one of the biggest suppliers of generic medicines to the Global Fund. When Antiretroviral (ARV) medications were beyond the price range of most people who needed them, Dr Yusuf Hamied, Cipla’s non-executive chairman, pushed down the prices to an affordable and unimaginable $1 a day—currently, one million people around the world are on Cipla’s ARV. Under Saxena, Cipla had also majorly boosted anti-malarial products that were supplied to the Global Fund.
This fact of Cipla being one of the biggest drug supplier of the fund could potentially work against Saxena since Cipla would presumably continue its work with the organisation. However, these arguments of apparent conflict of interest may also hold true for the two other candidates (see below) since the fund gives money both to United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Nigeria.
Pate is a former health minister of Nigeria and a former World Bank official. He is currently the chief executive officer of Big Win Philanthropy, an independent foundation that invests in children and young people in developing countries. He is known for his work on primary health care education in Nigeria, his work on midwives for reducing high maternal and child morbidity and mortality and his work on polio in Nigeria.
Clark who was also in the running last year as one of the candidates for heading the UN—a post that went to former Portugese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres—was New Zealand’s Prime Minister for nine years starting 1999. She has also been the UNDP chief since 2009 and has credited for streamlining and bringing better organisational efficiency to the development agency.
Sources indicated that Pate may be the favourite candidate for global donors.
However, Pate had posted a number of tweets that went against the then US presidential candidate Donald Trump and also after Trump assumed power. One article ran with the headlines, “Muslim women ask Trump #Canyouhearusnow?” Another retweet said “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president ... is morally treasonable to the American public” quoting Theodore Roosevelt. Yet another retweet of a Time post said “Donald Trump has more in common with Islamic State than America”.
The US happens to be one of the largest donors to the Geneva-based organisation. It pledged $1 billion dollar to the fund in 2016 of which it has paid about half a billion dollars.
This is problematic especially at a time when the new American administration is looking askance for ways to make major cuts in its global funding, including to the UN.
Though many public figures, including the UN high commissioner for human right Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, made some strong comments against Trump before he was elected, most of them are not fighting elections at the moment where the US could be influential unlike Pate.
It will be interesting to see, however, how donor preferences pan out in the choice of candidate. Currently, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the biggest donor to the Global Fund who pledged $0.2 billion last year.
Like many other global humanitarian organisations, the Global Fund is also grappling with finances and gets about $5 billion annually which is about half of what it needs.
India pledged about Rs 45,00,000 (Rs 45 lakhs) in contribution to the fund last year while it has disbursed about $1.8 billion and committed about $2 billion till date to India for work on AIDS, malaria, TB and TB/HIV.
The nomination committee for choosing the ED is chaired by Jan Paehler, the vice-chair of the board’s Ethics and Governance Committee and also includes Amy Baker, Michèle Boccoz, Sarah Boulton, Hristijan Jankuloski, Vinand Nantulya, Filipe da Costa and two independent members, Eric Goosby and Mphu Ramatlapeng.