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World Bank Offers Billion Dollar Plan to Curb Malaria

The World Bank is increasing its efforts to control malaria around the world which it calls inadequate. The international lending institution says it seeks to raise $1 billion to fight a disease that threatens 40 percent of the world's people and kills one million each year, mostly young sub-Saharan African children.

The World Bank says its new global approach will close the gap between what can be done about malaria and what is actually being done.

Bank officials want $500 million to $1 billion in new funding over the next five years. The bank's vice-president for Human Development, Jean-Louis Sarbib, says the agency will provide half the money, which he expects to encourage an equivalent amount from other donors. And he acknowledged the bank and others have not done enough in the past.

"We have been quite candid about the fact that we need to rededicate ourselves, because some of the earlier commitments of the bank have unfortunately not always been followed by action," he said.

The World Bank says its lending program will help countries pay for anti-malaria drugs, bed nets, and other control options. The five year period is significant because 2010 is the deadline African heads of state have set to cut malaria death rates in half.

The medical journal Lancet says that target appears unreachable. In a scathing editorial, it charged that the seven-year-old "Roll Back Malaria" partnership among the World Bank, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and other groups has done more harm than good. It says malaria rates have actually increased.

World Bank officials say "Roll Back Malaria" campaign members recognize the problems. In addition, the bank's director of health, nutrition, and population, Jacques Bauduoy says malaria has taken a back seat to the global focus on AIDS.

"I believe that Roll Back Malaria as an institution has played a very important role in terms of advocacy," said Mr. Bauduoy. "But it started at a difficult time when there was a lot of competition for resources because HIV-AIDS was being addressed on a larger scale. All partners will work in terms of making Roll Back Malaria more efficient and more effective."

The United Nations Foundation, an expected donor to the World Bank program, says the funding will help countries implement assistance in the rural areas where need is greatest.

But the group Doctors Without Borders in Paris said the new malaria effort is vague. It wants grants, not loans, coordinated through the Global Fund, which is set up to make grants specifically for AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria control programs.