The World Bank announced this month that it will significantly reform standards, and that it will further investigate disclosures involving the distribution of defective HIV/AIDS test kits, mass purchased as part of a health care project in India. Dr. Kunal Saha first informed the Bank's Department of Institutional Integrity (INT) that HIV kits distributed by the World back were defective.
Dr. Saha explained the World Bank corruption in a session of the International Association of Whistleblowers (IAW) May 16, 2008. He had gathered evidence that defective kits were purchased with World Bank funds and supplied by the Indian government to hospitals and blood banks across the country. The kits, distributed by Monozyme, Ltd., gave 'false negative' results: HIV-contaminated blood was not reliably detected by these kits and could therefore be accepted for use in transfusions.
The National AIDS Control Organization of India (NACO), which works with the Bank, stated to the Indian press:
"The documents cited by Dr. Saha have been reviewed by Dr. Robert Martin, associate Director, Coordinating Centre for Health and Information Services, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, USA who is also of the view that there is no evidence of use of poor quality HIV test kits in India and his allegations have no basis."
This story did not hold up, and the World bank had to reverse itself:
"Dr. Saha's report should have raised red flags about a potential public health emergency in India," said Bea Edwards, International Program Director at The Government Accountability Project (GAP). "Rather than acting immediately to arrest the potential spread of HIV through the World Bank project, however, the Bank instead sought to use the CDC to conceal the fraud."
Despite the public release of the INT report in January, the World Bank's Kostermans told the Washington Post just last week that the HIV test kits were not faulty. At the same time the Bank issued a statement saying: "We take these indicators of fraud and corruption extremely seriously. Working with the Indian authorities, we will take action against those found responsible…" The Bank and the Indian Government, which for the past year have strenuously fought to conceal the fraud and the public health danger from the press, patients and the public, are now supervising the investigation into the corruption they tried to conceal and are assuming responsibility for disciplining those who are culpable.
"This pledge is not credible" said Edwards. "The Bank always seems to take corruption 'extremely seriously' when one of its projects is challenged. Unfortunately, it does not follow through and take action."
Edwards attacked the Bank-CDC relationship: "Now that all the information is in and we can see the whole picture, it appears that the World Bank used the CDC in a health project cover-up. How is it possible that the World Bank can so easily manipulate a flagship public health agency of the U.S. government to smear a medical expert and suppress news of a public health emergency?"
"The need for accurate testing for HIV is critical, especially today," stated health activist Dr. James Murtagh. "There are even pseudo-scientists attempting to convince the public that HIV does not cause AIDs! To release defective HIV kits only plays into the denial, and causes public health to lose credibility in the eyes of the public. We need true integrity, especially at the World Bank. That is why what Dr. Saha has done is so important, and deserves widespread support."
Dr. Saha's whistleblowing, together with the help of groups like the Government Accountabilty Project, are the best possible way to bring urgently needed reforms to the World Bank.