The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has announced that it is reopening its search for a new executive director, dumping the favourite contender, Mohammed Ali Pate, a former Nigerian minister of state for Health.
The fund is influential in global health, disbursing about $5 billion a year to fight the three diseases — a budget more than twice as large as the World Health Organization’s.
The fund’s board had expected to conclude the search for a replacement for the current executive director, Dr. Mark Dybul, this week at its annual retreat. But “due to issues encountered in the recruitment process,” board members were unable to finish, the fund said in a statement.
The selection process was conducted out of the public eye by a recruiting firm hired by the board’s nominating committee. On Feb. 15, The New York Times reported that the committee had named three finalists: Helen Clark, a former New Zealand prime minister; Dr. Muhammad Ali Pate, a former Nigerian health minister; and Subhanu Saxena, a former pharmaceutical executive.
Dr. Pate, who was widely praised for his fight against polio in Nigeria, had a history of sharing articles on his Twitter feed that were highly unflattering to President Trump. One carried a headline referring to him as “a fascist of some variety”; another said he had “more in common with ISIS than America.”
The United States contributes a third of the Global Fund’s budget, and some observers said they thought Dr. Pate’s selection might hurt efforts to attract donations. Ms. Clark, frustrated with the process, withdrew from consideration.
On Feb. 20, leaders of the “implementers group” on the fund’s board, representing countries and nonprofit organizations that receive money from the fund, expressed “grave concerns” about the process because “key facts” about candidates were missed, according to a letter to the board chairman, Norbert Hauser, obtained by The Times.
A majority of the implementers, the letter said, wanted the board to reopen the process, appoint a new nominating committee, hire a new recruitment agency, announce the names of candidates, hold a session at which the public could question them, and hold a town hall-style meeting at which staff members could air their views.
“Public events would offer candidates a chance to show their ability to manage and respond to questions and would re-emphasize the Fund’s commitment to transparency,” the letter read.
According to the rules of the process, no candidate can win without a two-thirds vote of the implementers group, along with two-thirds of the board’s “donor group.” So delay appeared inevitable.
The letter by the implementers group also requested that the board create a transition committee, appoint an interim director, and manage the handover from Dr. Dybul, who is stepping down in May when his contract ends.
It also asked that any senior management changes or restructuring be delayed.
In an email, Pate stated that he has no plans to reapply for the job, noting that he was told the process was merit based and that he was the first-ranked candidate in the report. “The Global Fund Board’s decision is unfair and unjustified,” Pate wrote. He charges that during the vetting process, “several efforts were made to question my candidacy on the basis that I was a Muslim, or that I am of Nigerian origin,” which he complained “smacks heavily of racism and Islamophobia that is now finding its roots in a respectable Global Health partnership of the Global Fund.” He wrote that it is “sad to see the Global Fund Board lacking the courage to stand up against discrimination.”
Contrary to what the Times reported, Pate did not call Trump a fascist or suggest he had much in common with the Islamic State group. The Times story did later explain that Pate was forwarding Tweets from others that made these claims, one of which was a New Yorker article and the other a headline from Time magazine.
People familiar with the board’s deliberation told ScienceInsider that there was little hope of reaching consensus about the two remaining candidates, and the participants generally agreed that the search process, conducted over the past 3 months—which included the holiday in December 2016—had been rushed. “And there were real concerns that because of the leaks, the process wasn’t fair,” says one. “The Global Fund is a well-functioning machine. This is one of the major global health entities in the world, and it has a vision and a strategy but needs a leader to inspire confidence, especially to the donors.”