World Bank says money alone cannot fight malaria

Michael Georgy | 16 Mar 2007
The World Bank president urged donors on Thursday to step up the fight against Malaria -- one of the world's deadliest diseases - but cautioned funds should not be thrown at a problem plagued by corruption.

"I certainly agree we shouldn't just throw money around. It's too valuable, it's too precious and there are lives at stake, literally," Paul Wolfowitz told reporters after visiting a malaria control centre in northern South Africa.

"It's a false choice to say we should just ignore money being stolen because some of it gets to the right place. We need to insist all of it gets to the right place."

Wolfowitz launched a report from Britain's All-Party Parliamentary Malaria Group in South Africa calling for more cash and initiatives to fight malaria, including a possible global subsidy scheme to help cut the cost of a new generation medications in Africa.

Malaria, caused by a parasite carried by mosquitoes, kills at up to 3 million people a year worldwide and makes 300 million seriously ill. Ninety percent of deaths are in Africa south of the Sahara, mostly among young children.

Many of those lives could be saved with modern artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) drugs, which are far more effective than older treatments like chloroquine, to which resistance is now common.

Western drugmakers Novartis and Sanofi-Aventis have reduced the cost of treatment with ACT medicines to around $1, but that is still about 10 times more than chloroquine.

To help bridge the gap, international donors have started to consider a subsidy scheme for poor countries, under an initiative pioneered by the Netherlands.

Wolfowitz declined specific comment on whether the World Bank would support the proposed scheme. He said the bank had committed $500 million to malaria programmes in the next few years.

Public health experts criticised the World Bank last year for failing to tackle malaria in hard-hit countries.

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.

A public health specialist for the bank rejected the accusation, saying developing countries were insisting that it stay engaged in the fight against malaria.

Wolfowitz was accompanied by well-known South African singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka, a UNICEF goodwill ambassador on Malaria who began battling the disease after it killed one of her musicians.

Chaka Chaka called for tighter monitoring of malaria funds.

"I think it's high time that the World Bank and other donors should not just splash the money out. There should be accountability," she said.