Venezuelan aid, WHO's Ebola test, and MCC's leadership saga: This week in development

Jonathan Nash, outgoing CEO at the Millennium Challenge Corp. Photo by: U.S. Department of State

The DRC’s Ebola outbreak tests WHO reform, MCC faces another leadership transition, and the Gates Foundation, citing research, cuts parental leave in half. This week in development:

The U.S. government is looking for ways to ramp up humanitarian assistance to Venezuela, even as it isolates President Nicolas Maduro’s regime, imposes sanctions against the country’s oil industry, and has recognized an opposition figure as the country’s legitimate leader. On Wednesday USAID Administrator Mark Green spoke by phone with Juan Guaidó, the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly who the Trump administration has recognized as the country’s interim president. Green reiterated that the U.S. is ready to provide humanitarian aid to Venezuela, although it remains unclear how that would happen since Maduro has so far denied access. Elliott Abrams, U.S. special envoy for Venezuela, told reporters Wednesday that the U.S. is interested in establishing a humanitarian corridor. “Of course it requires the cooperation of the regime. I don’t know how practical that is. It hasn’t been possible to date,” he said. According to new research in The Lancet, Venezuela’s crisis has erased 18 years of progress on infant mortality. The country had been among Latin America’s leaders in reducing infant deaths — which serves as a key marker for overall health system capacity — until the early 2000s. The researchers found that from 2008 to 2016, Venezuela’s infant mortality rate increased by about 40 percent.

World Bank President Jim Kim will make his official exit Friday, as current CEO Kristalina Georgieva takes the reigns until Kim’s successor is chosen. The Trump administration is expected to announce its nominee soon, and while a few other names continue to circulate around Washington, D.C., Under Secretary of the Treasury David Malpass has emerged as the clearest frontrunner. Ultimately, President Trump will hold sway over America’s pick, with the World Bank’s board of directors responsible for the final selection. In a letter to staff on Monday, Kim reflected on his time in office and explained that he is leaving simply because, “I believe it’s time.”

The ongoing Ebola virus outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo has served as a test of the World Health Organization’s reform efforts undertaken by Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. At WHO’s executive board meetings in Geneva, Switzerland, an independent oversight committee established to monitor the work of WHO in outbreaks and emergencies shared its findings, and WHO member countries offered their own recommendations and concerns about the global health body’s performance in these contexts. The committee’s report found that WHO employees have seen “remarkable progress” on internal coordination and communication, but they worry about issues around staffing and security. Due to a lack of people with the specific skills needed to respond to such a complex and difficult outbreak, most of the staff working on the current Ebola effort have been redeployed — which the committee found to be “unsustainable.” Russia’s representative to the executive board disagreed with the “happily optimistic assessment,” arguing that the fact that health workers continue to contract Ebola — 20 of whom have died in the current outbreak, according to WHO — raises concerns about biosafety rules, recruitment, and training.

The Millennium Challenge Corp. faces yet another leadership transition as Jonathan Nash leaves the U.S. development agency and Cynthia Huger, the current chief financial officer and vice president of administration and finance, takes over as acting CEO. Nash, who had been with the agency for 13 years, served as acting CEO for much of the past two years in the absence of a confirmed Trump administration appointee for the top job. Sean Cairncross, whose nomination failed to move forward in 2018, was renominated on Jan. 16. Huger, who takes over on Friday, will become the fourth person to lead MCC in the past 12 months — at a time when some fear an agency that prides itself on bipartisan support has fallen prey to politics.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has informed employees that it will reduce its parental leave policy from one year to six months, according to the New York Times. The Times reported that “the decision to offer six months was based on research suggesting it was optimal,” according to Steven Rice, the foundation’s chief human resources officer. That determination was based on research showing that while three months is often an insufficient amount of time for healing and bonding, women who take one year of leave are less likely “to stay in the labor force, to earn as much or to achieve senior positions.”

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.