Mon, Feb 12, 2018 - Page 7 News List

The World Bank must refocus on its main objective

By Jeffrey Sachs

The World Bank says that its mission is to end extreme poverty within a generation and boost shared prosperity. These goals are universally agreed as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

However, the World Bank lacks an SDG strategy and now it is turning to Wall Street to please its political masters in Washington. Bank president Jim Yong Kim should find a better way forward, and he can do so by revisiting one of his own great successes.

Kim and I worked closely together from 2000 to 2005, to scale up the world’s response to the AIDS epidemic. Partners in Health, the non-governmental organization led by Kim and his colleague, Harvard University’s Paul Farmer, had used antiretroviral medicines (ARVs) to treat about 1,000 impoverished HIV-infected rural residents in Haiti, and had restored them to health and hope.

I pointed out to Kim and Farmer 18 years ago that their success in Haiti could be expanded to reach millions of people at low cost and with very high social benefits. I recommended a new multilateral funding mechanism, a global fund to fight AIDS and a new funding effort by the US.

In early 2001, then-UN secretary-general Kofi Annan launched the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and in 2003, then-US president George W. Bush launched the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief program.

The WHO, then led by former director-general Gro Harlem Brundtland, recruited Kim to lead the WHO’s scale-up effort. Kim did a fantastic job and his efforts provided the groundwork for bringing ARVs to millions, saving lives, livelihoods and families.

There are four lessons of that great success.

First, the private sector was an important partner by offering patent-protected drugs at production cost. Drug companies eschewed profits in the poorest countries out of decency and for the sake of their reputations. They recognized that patent rights, if exercised to excess, would be a death warrant for millions of poor people.

Second, the effort was supported by private philanthropy, led by Bill Gates, who inspired others to contribute as well. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation backed the new Global Fund, the WHO and the Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, which I led for the WHO from 2000 to 2001 — and which successfully campaigned for increased donor funding to fight AIDS and other killer diseases.

Third, the funding to fight AIDS took the form of outright grants, not Wall Street loans. Fighting AIDS in poor countries was not viewed as a revenue-generating investment needing fancy financial engineering. It was regarded as a vital public good that required philanthropists and high-income nations to fund life-saving treatment for poor and dying people.

Fourth, trained public health specialists led the entire effort, with Kim and Farmer serving as models of professionalism and rectitude. The Global Fund does not stuff the pockets of corrupt ministers or trade funding for oil concessions or arms deals. The Global Fund applies rigorous, technical standards of public health and holds recipient nations accountable — including through transparency and cofinancing requirements — for delivering services.

The World Bank needs to return to its mission. The SDGs call for, among other things, ending extreme poverty and hunger, instituting universal health coverage, and universal primary and upper secondary education by 2030.

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