The modest aim of an initiative like Aid Watch is to be one more small voice holding aid agencies and foundations accountable for doing good things for poor people. The aim of more accountability is to induce improved behavior by those guys, so that aid will work better. The Aid Watch blog already has had its first small test on trying to induce accountability. This post took Bill and Melinda Gates to task for claiming in the Financial Times that foreign aid had big victories over malaria in countries like Rwanda and Ethiopia, because the WHO country data they based it on was made up and later contradicted by the WHO itself.
The Gates Foundation did respond to this criticism, to their great credit (not directly, but that’s OK, it was visible enough in a response to the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s coverage of this controversy.)
What was their response to criticism for using invalid country data? Oops, they offered more invalid country data. The Gates Foundation spokesman offered the country data on Rwanda and Ethiopia from this journal article as defense for the Gateses’ claims on those countries' victories over malaria.
What does the cited article actually say? “Districts and health facilities were not randomly selected, but constituted a (stratified) convenience sample, selecting those sites where intervention scale-up had been relatively rapid and successful … Therefore, estimated impacts cannot be extrapolated to the countries nation-wide.”
Still, the Gates Foundation was a tad more responsive than the WHO, whose malaria chief first led astray the Gateses and the New York Times with false reports of victories over malaria based on made up country data, then the WHO issued totally different data in its official 2008 Malaria report a few months later, without ever retracting the New York Times story.
When Aid Watch’s intrepid investigator Laura Freschi approached the WHO for comment, she got the following response from the WHO Project Leader for Information Management & Communications, Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response (EPR):
“Hello. I have received your emails and phone call. However, WHO does not participate in blog discussions.
It may seem obsessive to insist on good data, but bad data costs lives. The sad thing is that there have been SOME victories against malaria, and that solid data on WHAT is working WHERE is vital to guide the campaign against this tragic disease. Would Americans put up with the CDC using made up data to respond to a salmonella outbreak?
I guess Aid Watch is going to have to work a LOT harder to do our part to get a bit more accountability.