World Bank's Africa split, Mercy Corps' safeguarding reviews, and an HIV vaccine setback: This week in development

Researchers at the NIAID Vaccine Research Center work with a robot that harvests cell cultures to discover HIV-neutralizing antibodies. Photo by: NIAID / CC BY

The World Bank’s Africa department splits in two, Mercy Corps releases external reviews of its handling of sexual abuse allegations against a co-founder, and researchers pull back an HIV vaccine trial. This week in development:

World Bank President David Malpass plans to split the bank’s Africa department in two. According to an internal announcement obtained by Devex, as of July 1, 2020, the Africa department will be divided into “Western & Central Africa” and “Eastern & Southern Africa,” each of which will be led by its own vice president. "We’ve been adding resources in sub-Saharan Africa, so the management resources need to be there. We think this will be the most effective way to have country programs be successful and regional programs be successful, both in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa and elsewhere around sub-Saharan Africa,” Malpass told Devex in an interview Wednesday. A World Bank staff member described the change as “another case of back-to-the-future,” recalling that the institution employed a similar structure — which the staff member said worked well — until the early 2000s. Malpass has focused the first year of his presidency on narrowing the bank’s focus to good development outcomes in its client countries, as opposed to embracing broad global challenges. He has also continued a process begun under Kristalina Georgieva’s interim presidency to roll back elements of former World Bank President Jim Kim’s controversial reorganization.

Mercy Corps published two independent reviews of its handling of sexual abuse allegations against the Portland, Oregon-based organization’s co-founder Ellsworth Culver on Wednesday. In 2018, Culver’s daughter, Tania Culver Humphrey, approached Mercy Corps with a request for the organization to review its handling of sexual abuse allegations that she had brought against her father in the 1990s to determine whether that process would meet current ethics and safeguarding policies. Mercy Corps’ leadership ultimately determined the organization’s prior review was satisfactory, leading Culver Humphrey to take her story to the press and resulting in an explosive investigation by the Oregonian/Oregon Live that led to the resignation of Mercy Corps’ CEO, the senior legal counsel, and a board member. The independent reports released this week found “no evidence that any Mercy Corps employee or board member engaged in intentional wrongdoing or an effort to cover up Ellsworth Culver’s conduct, Ms. Culver Humphrey’s abuse, or Mercy Corps’ 1990s investigation of such abuse,” but did reveal “missteps” and “poor judgment … that resulted in a mishandling of the request and ultimately a failure to adhere to Mercy Corps’ stated commitment to putting survivors first.” In response to the reports’ findings and recommendations, which Mercy Corps’ management and board of directors accepted unanimously, the organization published an array of commitments. These include hiring a chief ethics and compliance officer, putting an independent firm on retainer to support future safeguarding events, and imposing term limits for its board of directors.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases canceled an HIV vaccine trial in South Africa that has proved ineffective. Scientists had been cautiously optimistic about the trial, which began in 2016 and involved 5,407 HIV-negative volunteers at 14 sites across South Africa. “An HIV vaccine is essential to end the global pandemic, and we hoped this vaccine candidate would work. Regrettably, it does not,” said NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci in a press release. In a conversation with Devex Editor-in-Chief Raj Kumar on Tuesday, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Deborah Birx expressed optimism that ongoing research will ultimately lead to a viable vaccine. “The new trials that are in the field are a potential leapfrog,” Birx said, adding that “we also want a cure.” The South African trial — HVTN 702 — aimed to build off of a promising 2009 trial in Thailand, but researchers have hypothesized that differences in disease transmission dynamics between the two countries contributed to HVTN 702’s failure.

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.

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