World Bank under fire over Aids policy

World Bank under fire over Aids policy

By Eoin Callan and Krishna Guha in Washington

Published: April 12 2007 21:24 | Last updated: April 12 2007 21:24

The embattled leadership of the World Bank faced fresh questions on Thursday about the role of the executive in apparent changes to Bank policy on promoting contraception to combat the spread of Aids.

The Government Accountability Project accused Juan Josť Daboub, the bank's managing director, of "attempting to radically alter a long-standing health strategy at the World Bank".

Paul Wolfowitz, president of the Bank, ruled out any change to bank policy on reproductive health, as he faced calls for his resignation over his role in securing a large pay rise and promotion for a Bank official with whom he was romantically involved.

"I want to make it clear personally, I think reproductive health is absolutely crucial," he said.

Staff contacted by the Financial Times said officials were ordered last month by Mr Daboub to remove all references to family planning from a proposal to fund efforts to combat the disease and fight poverty in Madagascar.

Mr Daboub instructed subordinates to strike the references from a funding package requested by the country, staff claimed in interviews and in an internal document obtained by the FT.

There was no explanation provided in the documents for the change and Mr Daboub's office did not reply to requests for clarification.

The staff said there was a widespread perception within the bank that the emphasis on contraception in preventing disease was being altered following the appointment of the managing director, a former member of the ruling conservative party in El Salvador.

An internal bank email dated March 8 headed "MD clearance" said the managing director had made a request "to take out all references to family planning" from a country assistance proposal for Madagascar.

The email added that the request "creates a potential problem" because upcoming proposals would also include "family planning measures in response to the government's strong request for help in this area".

Three bank employees confirmed the authenticity of the document, while one recipient said they could not recall the details of the email, which was shared with the Government Accountability Project.

Beatrice Edwards, a member of the non-profit group, said: "Josť Daboub is attempting to radically alter a long standing health strategy at the World Bank with dangerous consequences for poor women who need family planning services."

A separate draft proposal for a new worldwide health strategy due to be circulated at this weekend's meeting of the bank also places less emphasis on contraception than in the past, according to staff contacted by the FT.

Staff said the proposed changes were widely seen within the bank as a departure from long-standing bank strategy of promoting the use of contraception to combat the spread of Aids in poor countries.

The issue has revived internal bank discussion about pressure to alter policy on family planning to reflect religious teachings and has added to misgivings among some staff about the leadership of Mr Wolfowitz.

The president of the bank was criticised for drawing too heavily on conservative allies of the Bush administration when he appointed his senior management team.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007