AIDS Measures Top World Bank's Agenda

AIDS Measures Top World Bank's Agenda

 

By John Burgess, Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday , April 13, 2000 ;

 

The World Bank will be pushing for a more aggressive fight against AIDS and better access for poor countries to the markets

of the industrial world, bank President James Wolfensohn said yesterday, describing his priorities for meetings this weekend of

the bank and the International Monetary Fund.

 

AIDS has become "a major development challenge, if not the most important development challenge, confronting us in Africa

today," Wolfensohn told reporters. He cited statistics showing HIV infection rates of more than 20 percent in five countries of

Africa.

 

"We need . . . a thoroughgoing effort with support of vaccines" and AIDS treatment, he said. The bank would "work with

governments to come up with programs that will make it culturally acceptable to talk about it and to deal with it."

 

Getting AIDS treatment drugs to poor countries has been a key issue for AIDS activist groups. They charge that profit-hungry

drug companies refuse to make them available at affordable prices.

 

Julie Davids of ACT-UP Philadelphia, an AIDS activist group, expressed skepticism over the bank's stance. "People know that they have to say the right things" about AIDS, she said. "We're not seeing those things materialize." She said it would be

important that other health programs were not cut to fund this one, that local people help plan the effort, and that they get a full

range of AIDS measures from which to choose.

 

Wolfensohn, at a news conference, also called on rich countries to provide special access to their markets for imports from

poor countries. "It doesn't make a lot of sense to help countries build their output and then deny the market access," he said.

 

At the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle late last year, developing countries complained that they are being locked

out of the world trading system because of barriers to many of the their exports, notably farm goods and textiles.

 

The White House backs a plan to give African and Caribbean nations easier access to the U.S. market, but Congress has

delayed action on it. The United States also supports a plan being drafted at the WTO for a general opening of markets to poor countries, though many analysts see that effort as less comprehensive than what the World Bank wants.

 

In another event leading up to the meetings of the bank and International Monetary Fund this weekend, the IMF released

"World Economic Outlook," its take on the state of the global economy and its prospects.

 

The report predicts global growth of about 4.25 percent, but expresses concern over the imbalanced growth rates of different

national economies. The United States continues to grow strongly, running up huge deficits in its current account as it imports

heavily, even while much of the rest of the world has cut back on purchases of U.S. products due to lingering effects of the

1997 international financial panic.

 

The report praised recent U.S. interest-rate increases by the Federal Reserve and said it probably needs to impose more to

cool off economic overheating.

 

Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers responded in an interview that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong."

 

"Over time, our current account deficit should come down," Summers said. The best ways for it to decline, he said, are for us

"to increase savings as a nation, which is why paying down the national debt is so important and why it is so important to do

more to promote personal savings."

 

Summers said the deficit could also fall through increased exports or reduced imports. "The United States would prefer to rely

on increased exports," he said.

 

2000 The Washington Post Company