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After almost five years (yes, it’s been that long!) of tracking and analyzing key features of the design, delivery and management of top global AIDS donors, several key policy debates have emerged from the HIV/AIDS Monitor’s country-level studies. Perhaps the most prominent was our call for greater information and data transparency, because we found that the lack of data made effectiveness analysis difficult, if not impossible. The Monitor has consistently urged donors to publicly disclose both their financial and programmatic data. (For more on this, see here, here and here, and a special report on PEPFAR based on 2004-6 data that were released under the Freedom of Information Act. In addition, my colleague Nandini Oomman sent a special memo to President Obama as he took office two years ago, which called for greater transparency of aid spending and learning to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective).

Fast forward to 2010 and we are pleased to note that some things have changed, but by and large data remains hard to come by. If we look at a 2007 summary of financial data made publicly available by the three donors, we see that almost three years later, not much has improved in terms of the type of data that is both collected and made available for public consumption (Note: New data isn’t easy to find.  If there are additional updates beyond what has already been inserted below please let us know and we will revise the table):

Financial Data Publicly Available from PEPFAR, The Global Fund and the World Bank in 2007

Type of Data World Bank MAP

Global Fund PEPFAR
Donor Commitments to Country Yes Yes Yes
  • By Recipient
Yes Yes Yes
  • By Program Area
Yes – for broad program areas No – collected but not publicly shared Yes – based on allocations.
Donor Disbursements to Country Yes Yes No - collected by some PEPFAR implementing agencies but

not publicly shared

NOW AVAILABLE

  • By Recipient
No – collected but not publicly shared Yes No – collected by U.S. Treasury and some PEPFAR

implementing agencies but not publicly shared

NOW AVAILABLE

Recipient Organization  (RO) Disbursements Varies by country – collection not required by MAP Yes No – collected by U.S. Treasury and some PEPFAR

implementing agencies but not publicly shared

  • Transfers to Sub-Recipient Organizations (SRO)
No – estimates by type of recipient are collected but not

publicly disclosed

Yes – collection of total transfers to SROs is publicly

disclosed; data on transfers disaggregated by SRO are not required by GF -

some ROs do submit such data but these are not publicly shared

No – collected by program area for each SRO (based on

obligations) but not publicly shared

  • Disbursements by Program Area
Yes – estimates only No – some, but not all, ROs submit such data but these are

not   publicly shared

No – collected (based on obligations) but not publicly

available

SRO Disbursements No – collection not required by MAP No – collection not required by GF No – collection not required by PEPFAR
  • By Program Area
No – collection not required by MAP No – collection not required by GF No – collection not required by PEPFAR

Source: Following the Funding

Among other things, it still remains impossible to identify the breakdown of funding to recipient and sub-recipient organizations by country and program area for PEPFAR programs.  Some financial data collected by the Global Fund are still not shared publicly (for example, the grant-specific “Sources of Uses and Funds”, which measures grant cash flows).  And funding breakdowns for World Bank MAP programs by recipient type and program area are still unavailable.

But why does this matter?  It matters because limited information stifles mutual accountability and learning in global HIV/AIDS programs. Evidence from our studies finds that national governments often do not know what activities are being carried out in their own country by AIDS donors. As a result, policy decisions in Washington and Geneva are often not based on the best evidence and intended beneficiaries are rarely armed with information to hold their governments accountable for delivering public goods. With a growing realization that countries—governments and civil society—have to lead and manage their AIDS responses, donors have to work with countries to make information available at all levels of the health systems.  This issue was discussed at length during a panel on country ownership at CGD in June 2010. The bottom line—Countries cannot “own” their responses, if they don’t know what is going on, or what is working or not!

Better information leads to better aid

Recent policies from the donors indicate a willingness to make more data available.  PEPFAR’s Five-Year Strategy cites “working to expand publicly available data” as a key initiative and the World Bank recently announced its Open Data, Open Knowledge, Open Solutions, which will enable free access to data that was previously unavailable. These policy changes are positive steps forward, but there is still much progress to be made.

Limited data impedes the ability to do a necessary analysis of effectiveness and efficiency, and therefore, accountability.  Going forward, donors need to put their rhetoric into action by identifying funding information and programmatic information that should be made available to different stakeholders to improve the accountability of and learning within their programs.