WHO's shortlist and Trump's early actions: This week in development news

Jin Liqun, president at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Photo by: Sikarin Thanachaiary / World Economic Forum / CC BY-NC-SA

U.S. global health policies took a hard turn to the right, the World Health Organization narrowed the field in a critical leadership contest, and the AIIB sent another signal that global development’s center of gravity is shifting East. This week in development news.

And then there were three. The World Health Organization’s executive board narrowed down the list of candidates vying to lead the organization on Wednesday to three candidates: Ethiopia’s Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Pakistan’s Sania Nishtar, and Britain’s David Nabarro. Of the three, Nishtar was the only surprise, displacing French candidate Philippe Douste-Blazy, a drug affordability and universal health care advocate, whom some had considered a likely finalist. In May WHO’s 194 member countries will vote to choose the organization’s next director-general — the first time the election has expanded beyond the executive board. This election has major implications for the future of an organization that has faltered in the face of health crises and for the entire global health architecture.

Gambian President Adama Barrow is heading home to the Gambia after former President Yahya Jammeh finally relinquished his hold on the government and left the country last weekend. Now that the political crisis appears to be at an end, the United Nations has sent officials to help ensure a smooth transition under Barrow, a former property developer whose surprise electoral victory prompted the country’s first transition of power in more than two decades. About 4,000 troops from the Economic Community of West African States — ECOWAS — still remain in the country after intervening when Jammeh refused to step down.

With a flurry of executive orders, U.S. President Donald Trump left little doubt that his “America first” mantra will apply to the country’s global development policy. A draft executive order obtained by the New York Times calls for a 40 percent cut to U.S. contributions to international organizations — and for ending funding altogether to some U.N. agencies. Since these were draft executive orders — and since budget appropriations are not set by the president but through negotiations in congress — it remains to be seen whether Trump’s early signals will translate to reductions in funding at the scale he’s said to be proposing.

But Trump has already made his mark in other ways. The president reinstituted and expanded a “global gag rule,” which prohibits foreign nongovernmental organizations that receive U.S. funding from carrying out, or providing information about, abortions. Previous iterations of the rule — under George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan — only applied to organizations receiving U.S. funding for family planning. Trump’s version expands the rule to organizations that receive any type of U.S. global health assistance — making it applicable to about 15 times as much U.S. funding, according to the global health NGO PAI. Marie Stopes International estimated the Trump-approved rule could result in 6.5 million unintended pregnancies, 2.2 million abortions, 2.1 million unsafe abortions and 21,700 maternal deaths between 2017 to 2020.

The Dutch government shot back at Trump’s anti-abortion stance by announcing a new fund that will provide safe access to abortions and birth control in developing countries. “Banning abortions does not result in fewer abortions,” Dutch Trade and Development Minister Lilianne Ploumen said in a statement.

The Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is set to welcome about 25 new member countries in 2017, in what some see as a further expansion of China’s role in development finance, as European countries and the United States look inward. The U.S. has still not joined the AIIB, though the bank’s president, Jin Liqun, maintains the door is still “wide open” for the Trump administration to do so. Among the countries likely to become AIIB shareholders this year are Ireland, Canada, Ethiopia and Sudan, according to the Financial Times, which reported that the bank’s June annual meetings could see the new inductions. At the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a strong defense of global cooperation and engagement. “We must remain committed to developing global free trade and investment ... Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room,” Xi said.

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About the author

  • Igoe michael 1

    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.