Africa's victory over polio, America's election, and AfDB's annual meetings: This week in development

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A child is given a dose of polio vaccine at an immunization health center in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria. Photo by: REUTERS / Afolabi Sotunde

A global health milestone for Africa and the world, the aid implications of America’s presidential election, and the African Development Bank’s vote of confidence. This week in development:

The World Health Organization has declared the African continent free of wild polio in a major global health milestone decades in the making. The announcement by WHO’s Africa Regional Certification Commission comes after the continent has gone four years without a case of wild polio — though it continues to see cases of vaccine-derived polio in some countries. Nigeria was the last country to be declared free from the wild polio virus, marking a major global health victory in a country that accounted for more than half of global cases less than a decade ago. Nigeria’s last case of wild polio was reported in 2016 in Borno state, where the presence of extremist group Boko Haram made it difficult and dangerous for health workers to access communities. “Ending wild polio virus in Africa is one of the greatest public health achievements of our time and provides powerful inspiration for all of us to finish the job of eradicating polio globally,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement. The disease is now only found in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In another disease-fighting breakthrough, researchers in Indonesia have found that infecting mosquitoes with a naturally occurring bacteria called Wolbachia dramatically decreases their ability to transmit dengue, a fever-causing virus that affected 4.2 million people in 2019. A study in Yogyakarta city found that releasing Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes led to a 77% decrease in dengue infections compared to untreated areas. Researchers plan to scale up the study to other dengue-affected parts of Indonesia.

The United States’ major political parties have officially nominated their presidential candidates, sending the race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden into its final and most heated stretch. Apart from broad questions of foreign policy, global development advocates rarely find their issues featured in U.S. presidential elections, but this year marks a significant departure. Global health security, vaccine development and distribution, and international cooperation — or a lack thereof — have emerged as key campaign issues as America continues to face the world’s largest COVID-19 outbreak. Biden has outlined a detailed plan for a COVID-19 response, including commitments to lead on global health security in the future. “Even as we take urgent steps to minimize the spread of COVID-19 at home, we must also help lead the response to this crisis globally,” his policy reads. The Democratic challenger has also pledged to fully fund WHO, an institution that has taken on new political dimensions inside the U.S. in the wake of Trump’s decision to initiate America’s withdrawal. In general, U.S. development experts expect a Biden administration would see a greater emphasis on global development engagement than Trump’s White House has pursued. That would likely include efforts to revitalize the U.S. Agency for International Development and Department of State workforces, to address democratic declines around the world, and to emphasize development investment to advance America’s foreign policy goals. In contrast, Trump has taken a largely disinterested view of global development as president, according to experts. His involvement has been mostly limited to using the threat of foreign aid cuts to pressure governments and institutions into adopting the administration’s favored policies, they said.

Akinwumi Adesina secured a second term as president of the African Development Bank during the institution’s annual meetings, held by videoconference. Adesina, a Nigerian who has led the institution since 2015, ran unopposed, but saw his reelection campaign upended by allegations of corruption, which prompted both an internal and a subsequent independent review, both of which cleared the AfDB chief. The incident, prompted by whistleblower complaints that Adesina was using the bank’s resources for his personal gain and unfairly favoring Nigerians, drove a wedge between the institution and the U.S. government, AfDB’s second-largest shareholder. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sent a letter to the institution’s board expressing “deep reservations” about the integrity of the internal review. That, in turn, sparked an outcry among many African leaders, who came to Adesina’s defense and accused the U.S. of trying to hijack the bank’s governance away from Africa. Adesina’s successful bid for a second term comes after he secured a capital increase in 2019 that doubled the institution’s resources. AfDB has also launched a $10 billion COVID-19 Response Facility, which Adesina said shows, “our unshaken commitment and unyielding responsibility to support, stabilize and strengthen African economies.”

About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.