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World Bank devastating developing countries

By Ershadul Huq, India Abroad News Service, Thursday 7 December 2000; 4:56 PM

Dhaka, Dec 7 - Delegates at an international meet on public health here sharply criticized the World Bank for its healthcare policies, saying they were devastating developing economies, lives of the poor and the public health system while favoring multinational pharmaceutical companies.

The World Bank should be dismantled, Antonio Tujan, a social activist from the Philippines, said. He alleged that the Bank's policies in his country were aimed at commercialization and privatization of the healthcare system. The poor have been marginalized and are languishing in poverty, he claimed.

Delegates from 95 countries are attending the People's Health Assembly 2000.

Tujan said less than three percent of the $1.8 billion World Bank loan given to the Philippines was being spent on public health. No medicine is better than bad medicine, he said, calling for a rejection of the Bank's policy prescriptions.

We don't need charity but justice, said Charles Mutasa of Zimbabwe, blaming the World Bank for a global economic system in which the African countries were caught in a debt trap.

Thelma Narayan from India called the Bank an undemocratic institution. The Bank functions with no transparency and is controlled by the United States, which dominates most of its decision-making. Who will take responsibility for the disruption in the lives of people and the deaths caused by the World Bank-promoted projects? Narayan asked.

Defending the institution, Richard Lee Skolnik, the World Bank's South Asia director for health, nutrition and population, said: What the Bank is trying to do is to overcome and address inadequate access and low quality of health services to people. The Bank is the largest financier of healthcare worldwide with an annual contribution of $1.5 billion focused on the poor.

Citing the examples of successful tuberculosis programs being implemented in Bangladesh and India, Skolnik said, These programs are some of the largest in terms of monetary involvement. Deaths around the world have come down owing to these programs.

He added, We must be driven by an overwhelming concern for the poor, tribal people, women, lower castes and other disadvantaged groups. I think you should also hold the Bank accountable for actions including making health, nutrition and population central to its macroeconomic work.

But Muzaffar Ahmed of Bangladesh said institutions like the World Bank were co-opting politicians, bureaucrats and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The NGOs, he said, were being funded and pushed by the Bank as the main provider of health services to the public and the role and responsibility of the governments was being undermined.

The five-day assembly began Monday at Savar, about 35 km west of capital Dhaka. It has been organized by the Gonoshasthya Kendra (Mass Health Center).

Another speaker said, The so-called solutions proposed by many U.N. agencies, governments and multinational companies have been donations or price reductions of patented drugs, private-public partnership to support these initiatives and corporate community programs.

He asked: Do these responsibilities lie with the governments or the corporation. Are public private-partnership viable solutions to the long-term responsibility of states to protect, promote and ensure right to access to healthcare?

Devid Legg from Australia denounced current trade regime, saying, The current global trading regime is against poor countries. Is it power or rationality?

The delegates later demanded that the World Bank spend more money on health-related social welfare projects. They also called for more South-South cooperation to shake off dependence on loans from institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).