LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has suspended payments to Nigeria's AIDS agency over evidence that $3.8 million was stolen by its workers and consultants, the Geneva-based agency said Friday.
Fund spokesman Seth Faison said Nigeria's government has promised to repay the money and to prosecute suspects.
A report by the fund's inspector general says seven government workers and three information technology consultants stole the money over five years between 2010 and 2014. It said the fraud continued because the National Agency for the Control of AIDS did not carry out proper audits.
The missing money is 95 percent of the amount budgeted to implement, administer and train users of a web-based reporting platform, according to the report, but a fraction of the $1.4 billion the fund has spent fighting AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in Nigeria — its biggest recipient.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation of 170 million, has the world's second highest number of people infected with AIDS after South Africa, it reports one-third of all deaths from malaria in Africa and is among the top 22 countries with the most TB patients.
Corruption is endemic in Nigeria and hundreds of people are being prosecuted since President Muhammadu Buhari won elections a year ago promising to halt graft.
Last year, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization accused Ministry of Health officials of malpractice and fraud during an audit of 40 percent of the $29 million it spent in the West African nation between 2011 and 2013. Nigeria repaid GAVI $2.2 million.
Nigerian officials could not immediately be reached to comment on the latest scandal, which involves falsified expense receipts.
"When this information was first confirmed, we immediately suspended disbursements to the agencies involved on April 12, and sent fiscal agents to monitor expenses," spokesman Faison told The Associated Press. He said the fund might cease all funding to those agencies.
The Nigerian charity ProjektHope said the suspension endangers AIDS treatment as only 750,000 of the country's 1.8 million with HIV are receiving antiretroviral drugs, almost all supplied by international charities.
This story has been corrected to say that the GAVI audit was of 40 percent of the funding, not that 40 percent of the funding was found to have been misused.