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World Bank Said to Waste Money, Use False Data in Fighting Malaria

By Celia W. Dugger

The World Bank failed to follow through on its pledges to spend up to $500 million to combat malaria, let its staff working on the disease shrink to zero, used false statistical data to claim success, and wasted money on ineffective medicines, according to a group of public health experts writing in the British medical journal The Lancet.

The experts, in an article to be published online on Tuesday, argue that the bank should relinquish the money it has to fight malaria, which kills an African child every 30 seconds, and instead let the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria distribute the bank’s malaria funds.

The World Bank conceded in a written reply to the article that its malaria programs were understaffed and underfinanced, but denied using false statistics or paying for obsolete medicines. It said that in the past year it had revitalized its malaria program.

Bank officials said in an interview on Monday that the number of staff members working on malaria has grown from none to more than 40 in the past year, while $62 million in new spending has recently been approved, an amount expected to rise to $190 million by June. The Global Fund does not have staff on the ground in Africa to monitor how the money is spent, while the World Bank does, bank officials said in their written reply.

“The story captures a lot of the bank’s shortcomings from a year ago,” Suprotik Basu, a public health specialist in the bank’s malaria program, said on Monday. “But now we’ve had a year of progress.”

In 1998, when the bank began the Roll Back Malaria campaign, it promised to spend $300 million to $500 million to help halve the number of malaria deaths in a decade. More than 1 million people die of malaria each year, mostly African children.

But just four years after its commitment, the number of bank staff working on malaria fell from seven to zero, a fact Basu acknowledged.