World Bank criticized over anti-malaria efforts

Patricia Reaney | 24 Apr 2006
Public health experts criticized the World Bank on Tuesday for failing to tackle malaria in hard-hit countries while millions of children have died.

They said the bank, which has an annual budget of $20 billion, has concealed the amount of money it spends to fight the illness, funded ineffective treatment, reduced its expert staff and published false statistics about its efforts.

Professor Amir Attaran of the Institute of Population Health at the University of Ottawa in Canada and his colleagues said the World Bank's program for controlling malaria in 2005-2010 was inadequate to reverse its history of neglect for malaria.

"They have made decisions which have killed a very large number of children throughout the world," Attaran said in an interview.

"The reality is that the Bank got it dreadfully wrong on malaria in a number of ways," he said.

Suprotik Basu, public health specialist on the bank's malaria team, rejected the accusation, saying developing countries were insisting that the World Bank stay engaged in the fight against malaria.

"Any insinuation that the bank's support for malaria control in Africa or worldwide has been responsible for the deaths of children is misleading and grotesquely incorrect," he said.

Malaria, a parasitic disease transmitted by mosquitoes, kills more than a million people a year, mostly young children in Africa.

Attaran and his colleagues described the Bank's technical expertise as insufficient and said it was institutionally unsuited to deliver excellence on malaria.

"We summarize the evidence, show that the Bank possesses demonstrably little experience in malaria, and argue that the Bank should relinquish its funding to other agencies better placed to control the disease," Attaran said in a report published online by The Lancet medical journal.

In response to the criticism, World Bank officials said in the online report that it was dedicated to alleviating the suffering of the 500 million people who are afflicted with malaria each year.

But it said that, despite successes in malaria control in parts of Brazil, Eritrea, India and Vietnam, "the overall efforts by the Bank in malaria control were understaffed and underfunded."

Jean-Louis Sarbib, of the World Bank, said it was not easy, or even possible sometimes, to determine how much input from a donor has gone into specific activities to control malaria.

He added that $500 million in new commitments for malaria control in Africa and south Asia are expected in 2006-2008.

"World Bank Group President Paul Wolfowitz has put the full weight of his leadership behind the Bank's renewed commitment to malaria, with a strong emphasis on results," Sarbib said.

But the public health experts called for the Bank to allocate $1 billion to other organizations such as the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria which has a better track record.

"They simply need to get out of the disease control business," Attaran said.