The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria on Thursday denied reports that its suspension of all contracts with two major mosquito net suppliers found to have bribed Cambodian officials would cause a shortage in the worldwide supply of the critical malaria deterrent, but said it could lead to logistical challenges in net delivery.
The Global Fund suspended all contracts worldwide with the suppliers, Swiss firm Vestergaard Frandsen and Sumitomo Chemical Singapore, after a two-and-a-half year probe into bribes they paid to Cambodian health officials to secure Global Fund-financed contracts.
Together, the two firms supplied approximately half the mosquito nets the Global Fund bought internationally last year.
The New York Times reported on Wednesday that the suspensions had stoked fears of a shortage in the supply of the 200 million nets that would be needed around the world to protect against malaria in 2014.
The report says that Vestergaard and Sumitomo were the world’s two top producers of bed nets.
Global Fund communications director Seth Faison said Thursday that a shortage would be avoided.
“The global suspension of the two bed net suppliers will not prevent us and our partners from procuring and delivering the high number of nets needed in 2014,” he said.
“We are working with multiple suppliers to fill the demand. While that creates logistical challenges, our procurement team is fully confident that we can meet the demand and avoid any shortages or stock-outs in 2014.”
Mr. Faison added that he did not expect any negative effects on the supply of mosquito nets to Cambodia.
According to the Global Fund report, Sumitomo provided more than 2.4 million mosquito nets to Cambodia through contracts manipulated by the Cambodian Health Ministry’s National Malaria Center (CNM) between 2006 and 2011. Vestergaard Frandsen supplied an additional 1.8 million nets to the CNM.
As a result of the Cambodia investigation, the Global Fund put the U.N. Office for Project Services (UNOPS) in charge of receiving and dispersing all its grants to Cambodia earlier this year.
UNOPS country director Jaap van Hierden said all mosquito nets in Cambodia being paid for by the Global Fund were now being purchased through an international pooled procurement process, but that he was not sure exactly how it worked.
While Vestergaard and Sumitomo are reportedly still fulfilling current contracts globally, Mr. van Hierden said their obligations in Cambodia were most likely complete.
“I’m pretty sure no more bed nets are coming from those two suppliers,” he said.
Mr. van Hierden said there were also no outstanding orders for bed nets in Cambodia through the Global Fund at the moment, but added that UNOPS would be applying for funds for more nets by the end of next year, to be delivered in early 2015.
“You always have to think half a year ahead of time,” he said.
Mr. van Hierden said he did not know whether the switch in suppliers could cause a shortage of nets here before the next delivery in 2015.
He referred questions about imminent mosquito net demands and supplies to the CNM, but officials there could not be reached.
According to the Global Fund report, Sumitomo also paid an unnamed World Health Organization (WHO) employee $1,990 to cover travel and accommodation for a private trip to Singapore in 2009 in exchange for insider information on upcoming mosquito net contracts.
Sonny Krishnan, spokesman for the WHO in Cambodia, said the WHO had launched its own investigation into the allegations as soon as it received a draft of the Global Fund report a few months ago. Mr. Krishnan said he could not comment further on an ongoing probe, but added that the employee in question had already retired.
As for the public health officials implicated in the Global Fund report, who have also either left their posts or were suspended because of the investigation, the government said its Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) would be investigating as well. The ACU has declined to comment.
(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)