World Bank Wasted Money and Lives in Buying Wrong Medicine

Roger Bate & Amir Attaran | 12 Sep 2007
Wall Street Journal

Your editorial "World Bank Corruption" and Bret Stephens's Global View column "Mind the GAP" (both on Sept. 4) expose the myriad illicit practices of some World Bank staff and contractors, particularly in Indian health projects supported by Western taxpayers. The methods used by these bad actors to obfuscate their actions and delay, often permanently, their exposure are interesting. Seventeen months ago we published a paper in The Lancet (a medical journal) about the execrable Indian malaria program of the World Bank, and in particular its purchase in India of chloroquine (CQ), which is ineffective against the fatal form of malaria and was against World Health Organization guidelines. Alternative medicines exist, which are totally effective, but oddly the bank chose not to buy them. We equated this with "medical malpractice."

The bank refused to give us numerous documents on its India malaria project when we were researching the Lancet paper and now we know why -- they would have led us to the corruption that permeates the bank's work in India. The internal bank investigation from 2005 that the Journal revealed fingers the actions of a firm called Nestor Pharmaceuticals. Available records show that the CQ the bank bought, it bought from Nestor.

Why did the bank ignore WHO's medical advice to avoid CQ, and instead forge ahead to buy this ineffective medicine from a company in India? The bank's investigation alleges Nestor colluded with other suppliers, and manufactured substandard or even chemically diluted medicines.

The bank investigation must continue, and specifically, probe whether corruption underlies the fact the bank bought the wrong medicines, wasting both money and children's lives.

In the Lancet paper we demanded that the bank transfer the funds it devotes to malaria control to an agency better prepared to spend the money effectively -- perhaps the President's Malaria Initiative, or the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. We see no reason to change that suggestion.

Roger Bate
American Enterprise Institute

Amir Attaran
University of Ottawa
Ottawa, Ontario