The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria signed $2.4 billion to the 21 Francophone sub-Saharan African countries in which the Global Fund has invested during the current grant implementation cycle, 2018-2020. This amount represents 22% of the Global Fund’s total investment for the same period. The Global Fund has so far disbursed 58% of the amount signed, according to Aidspan’s calculation, based on data from the Global Fund website’s Data Explorer. As one of the most important sources of funding of the health sector in those countries, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria’s role in Francophone Africa is vital.
This analysis aims to explore whether Francophone countries have adequate access to Global Fund documents in French, the working language for communities, governments, and civil society officials in those countries. Information for this article comes from the Global Fund allocation letters for the period 2020-2022 sent to Francophone countries, and from the Global Fund website (including the ‘Resource Library’ tab on the Global Fund website’s home page).
Allocation letters sent in English to Francophone countries
The Global Fund sent Francophone countries their allocation letters for 2020-2022 in English and French in December 2019. For some Francophone countries, such as Chad or Senegal, the French letterhead read “version de courtoisie, seule la version anglaise fait foi” or “la version anglaise prevaut,” which the GFO understands to mean “courtesy version, the English version is considered legally binding”. The letters bear the signature of Marc Edington, the Head of the Grant Management Division.
The allocation letters describe the objectives of the funding, the amount allocated to countries, suggested split by disease, and other implementation arrangements such as choice of Principal Recipient.
Less than two-thirds of the Resource Library documents translated into French
The Resource library section on the Global Fund’s website (a tab on the home page) contains information documents in sub-sections such as Applicants, Board, Country Coordination Mechanism (CCM), Implementers, and other Global Fund stakeholders. In this section, 63% of the documents are available in French. This average conceals wide differences in the extent of translation between sub-sections.
In ‘Documents by type,’ under ‘Applicants’, the following sub-sections (in gray on the page) are available in French: Frequently Asked Questions, Core Information Notes, Master data documents. Similarly, the sub-section ‘Financial templates and guides’, under the tab 'Implementers' and the sub-section ‘Key documents’ under the tab 'Office of the Inspector General' are all translated into French. In contrast, only two documents out of nine related to Local Fund Agents are in French.
Source: Developed from information available on the Global Fund website:
The website also has a section on other general “resources,” such as governance and institutional documents, charters, and terms of reference where about two-thirds of the documents are available in French.
In the ‘About’ section of the Global Fund website, all the documents except the annual financial report for 2018 are translated into French. Some documents, such as the Results Report 2019 or the Sixth Replenishment Investment Case Summary are available in seven languages.
In contrast, within the Publications section of the website, the sub-section on baseline assessments of human rights-related barriers to services contains 11 documents, none of which is in French. In between those two extremes, the Publications sub-section on Community, Rights, and Gender has seven documents out of 16 translated into French.
About one-third of the Global Fund Resource Library documents are not available in French. The proportion of documents unavailable in other languages, Spanish or Russian, is higher. All allocation letters sent in December 2019 that Aidspan has seen urged implementing countries to raise domestic financing and refers them to the STC policy, yet the guidance note for Sustainability, Transition and Co-Financing (STC) is available only in English – not in French, Spanish or Russian.
This apparent inconsistency has raised questions for Aidspan on the rules or policies that govern the production or translation of documents from English to other languages. In addition, feedback from countries over time reflects two possible consequences when some Global Fund documents are available only in English: People may rely on unofficial translations provided by those who claim some understanding of English, though the quality of these translations is unknown; or, in the absence of translation, the documents may be ignored, which would undermine the efficacy of the grant request and grant-making processes, and Board and Committee meeting outcomes.
The Global Fund Secretariat response
The GFO reached out to the Secretariat to understand why the allocation letters, which were also provided in French (for Francophone countries) were described as a “courtesy” version compared to the official English version, and to understand more broadly the Global Fund’s rules that govern the translation of documents from English into French and other languages.
The Global Fund’s Director of Communications, Seth Faison, responded to the GFO’s request for comment. We include Faison’s written response below, along with links to the Global Fund’s policy and resources that he cites in his explanation.
“Language is an issue of high concern to the Global Fund and has been since we were established in 2002. On translation of documents, we take a pragmatic approach, appropriate to our mission to accelerate the fight against AIDS, TB and malaria. As a global partnership organization, we work with countries where numerous languages are spoken and written, and we are of course aware that communicating with partners in their preferred language is always ideal. On the other hand, we have a strong mandate and continual guidance from our Board and stakeholders to be as efficient as possible with our resources, so that a maximum amount of money can be directed toward serving people affected by AIDS, TB and malaria. Our policy is to translate essential documents as appropriate, and not to routinely translate all documents into multiple languages. That inevitably involves judgement calls, and we will never be perfect. Our French-speaking partners have monitored the situation and strongly encourage us to translate documents into French, and we have responded to their requests, as well as to requests for translations into Portuguese, Japanese, German, Spanish, Russian, and many other languages. We carefully consider any request, and use our judgment accordingly.
In practice, as Aidspan’s study shows, we translate many documents, but not all. It was appropriate, for instance, to translate our Results Report and our Investment Case into multiple languages because we received expressions of interest from media and partners. In contrast, it was appropriate to limit our Annual Financial Report to an English-language version.
Section 21.1 of the Operating Procedures of the Global Fund Board and Committees states that English is the official working language of the Global Fund and that materials prepared by and for the Board shall be in English, and that the Secretariat “may provide translations of certain materials.” Where disputes arise from the contents of translated materials, the English version shall prevail.
The allocation letters and other documents follow the same operational principle. We operate in English, and translate documents where appropriate. From a legal point of view, expressing rights and obligations in a single language, as opposed to trying to express them equally and simultaneously in multiple languages, provides an element of legal certainty and security. If we tried to work with written documents in multiple binding languages, it would be time-consuming and fraught with risks of confusion, ambiguity and uncertainty.
The language Aidspan cites from those French-language letters, about a courtesy, is intended as a legal and operational reference only. To confirm, ‘the English version shall prevail’ is only relevant in case misunderstandings or disputes emerge.
It has been a long-standing practice to require grant agreement documents to be submitted in English, essentially for operational reasons. Yet we try to maintain some capacity in the languages commonly used by country teams, and routine business correspondence with francophone countries and constituency representatives is typically in French.
When the Board considered a Documents Policy in 2009, there was a consensus that the Global Fund should avoid the UN model, with systematic translations and interpretation into six languages, because of the significant cost and logistics, in favor of steering maximal resources for treatment and prevention. A multi-lingual approach is appropriate for the UN, but not for the Global Fund.
The Global Fund’s written documents policy does not specially cite translations for written documents. At the same time, for those attending a Global Fund Board meeting, simultaneous interpretation is provided in French and in other languages when necessary.”
Resources referred to by the Global Fund:
The Global Fund’s ‘Documents Policy’ (May 2007), on the Governance & Policies web page
Editor’s note: Aidspan and the GFO would welcome further comment and dialogue on the issue of translation at the Global Fund, including examples of specific problems implementers or others have encountered because of a lack of translation into their working language. Please post comments or feedback in ‘Leave a comment’ at the end of this article online, or email email@example.com ‘Global Fund translation’ in the subject line.