National AIDS project in whose Aid?

Corruption, misappropriation and financial irregularities are some of the accusations made by the World Bank on the Maharashtra Government. Media can play a vital role in highlighting such scams to ensure that the corrupt people be punished severely.

India’s Second National Aids Control Project (NACP-2) project ran from September 1999 to March 2006 and the Maharashtra Government has been blamed for the fraud and mismanagement. The bank’s detailed implementation review (DIR) suggests that bribes of 10-40% had to be paid by non-governmental organisations (NGOs). NGOs were poorly monitored and some were non-existent.

The abysmal quality of testing kits supplied may have exaggerated the total number of people suffering from HIV AIDS. These Faulty kits showed people as HIV-positive even when they were negative. Imagine the stigma and psychological stress the patients would have had to go through even when they were not suffering from the deadly disease. The bank’s review found that the faulty diagnostic kits were supplied by Monozyme India Ltd, Span Diagnostics Ltd and Zhongshan Biotech Company Ltd of China.

The question is as to why the Maharashtra State Aids Control Society (MSACS) and the Mumbai District Aids Control Society (MDACS) continued to award contracts to the defaulting companies with faulty kits even when there were 21 other companies who could have been used. Corruption may just be the answer.

These contracts were shockingly awarded without checking the authenticity, credentials and credibility of the suppliers. In one case, the review team found Chinese restaurant Golden Dragon at the address given by Zhongshan’s local distributor in Mumbai, Spectra Pharma and Health Products. Thus MDACS made no move whatsoever to confirm the authenticity of the company it was dealing with.

The World Bank noted several indicators of fraud in procurement procedures for testing kits, including delays in opening bids and awarding contracts, apparent avoidance of the World Bank’s review threshold and unusual pricing patterns.

The World Bank found that more than half the number of people declared HIV positive using Monozyme kits (2,640 out of 4,620) actually tested negative when rescreened. In fact, only 1,980 finally tested positive after two supplementary screenings. Of the 19,331 people tested, the faulty tests showed 23.9% as HIV-positive when the real figure should have been 10.49%. At GT Hospital, 28 out of the 4,920 people tested with Monozyme kits showed a false positive. At JJ Hospital, 17 out of 873 results were discordant. The overall discordance rate at JJ Hospital was 12.23%.

The substandard quality of test kits used yielded invalid and unusually high false positive results, or discordant results. Some test kits were distributed near their expiry dates. At blood banks, false negative results carry the risk of infected blood being given through transfusions; a false positive test means blood that can be used for those who need it is actually wasted.

Out of 40 NGOs reviewed in Maharashtra, 16 were improperly selected, four had fraudulent accounting, six had weak financial control, two had had no proof of work done, one reportedly paid bribe, and four were terminated by the Sacs for fraud or non-performance.

In another case, MSacs gave grants to an NGO though its contracting and performance documents showed that it had not conducted any activity related to HIV/Aids prevention. Instead it conducted activities like tree planting, rural development, distribution of school dresses, and craft education.

In Maharashtra, the DIR visited the supposed address of an NGO and found nothing of that sort. Instead a large residential setup was found and the owner of the house said it had never been used by any NGO.

In MDacs, two NGOs were selected without request for proposal, seven were not even registered, 19 had no appraisals, seven had no audit report, and one was paid though serious anomalies were found.

Everytime the World Bank or any foreign institution has given money for a noble cause, the Indian politicians have manipulated it for its benefits. For a country that is home to the second largest number of AIDS patients in the World, only after South Africa, the project of the World Bank could have done wonders, but till Corruption is rampant in our society no project will work. The Maharashtra Government should be ashamed of itself and such cases of fraud and corruption should be taken up by the Media so that no guilty person is left free.

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