Belt and Road Forum, a UN 'sexual health' fight, and malaria's vaccine moment: This week in development

A Belt and Road Forum logo outside the China National Convention Center in Beijing, China. Photo by: REUTERS / Jason Lee

China pushes back against “debt trap” criticism, a United Nations resolution on sexual violence in conflict falls victim to politics, and Malawi rolls out the first malaria vaccine. This week in development:

China is hosting dozens of leaders for its second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing this week — and hoping to dispel criticism that the sprawling global infrastructure investment plan represents a geopolitical power grab. On Friday, President Xi Jinping will deliver a keynote speech, where he is expected to address concerns about debt burdens brought on by Chinese loans, social and environmental safeguards, transparency, and multilateral cooperation. A communique that will be issued from the forum on Saturday will likely reiterate some of these assurances, according to early reports. “From recipient countries so far, I think most of them are favorable to the coming of China as a donor. But I see most of the resistance, most of the animosity coming from the existing donors and especially the U.S.,” Justin Yifu Lin, honorary dean of the National School of Development at Peking University, told Devex recently. The Trump administration has opted not to send a high-level delegation to the forum, while Russian President Vladimir Putin, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, and all the heads of state from the Southeast Asian countries are in attendance.

The Trump administration threatened to veto a U.N. resolution on preventing rape in conflict situations unless references to “sexual and reproductive health” were removed from the text. According to reports on internal cables about the negotiations, administration officials believed the inclusion of this phrase would signal support for abortions. International health and human rights experts widely dispute this view, and broadly condemned the administration for watering down a resolution aimed at supporting wartime victims of sexual abuse. In a speech at the Tunis Forum on Gender Equality on Wednesday, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström described these as “difficult times” for women’s health rights. “Shall we deny these victims emergency contraceptives? Safe abortions? Sexual education? The right to know about HIV and AIDS?” she asked, adding that the U.S. should reconsider its role as a supporter of the signature U.N. resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security.

Malawi will begin the first major rollout of a malaria vaccine, the World Health Organization announced on Tuesday, calling the pilot vaccination effort a “landmark moment” in the fight against one of the world’s deadliest diseases. The vaccine, known as RTS,S, was developed by GSK, and its shortcomings have raised questions for global health bodies eager to deploy new tools against the evolving global malaria challenge. In testing, the vaccine was only able to prevent about 40% of malaria cases, and only about 30% of the severest forms of the parasite. It also requires that children receive four doses before the age of 2. Some health organizations have chosen not to participate in vaccination efforts, questioning the return on investment. Later this year, Ghana and Kenya will also begin rolling out the malaria vaccine as part of their routine vaccination plans, with the total number of vaccinated children expected to reach 360,000 in this initial phase.

About the author

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    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.