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As our readers know, HIV in Africa is out of control. In some countries infection rates are as high as 30%.

Thus one of the main arguments behind calls for debt relief is that these funds should be freed up for education and health programs.

And so the World Bank, in conjunction with the US Export-Import Bank, announced a plan that would combine some debt relief with loans to purchase cut rate HIV drugs. Hooray for the World Bank and the US, right?


Some of the loans are at a standard commercial rate, and their stipulations are such that African countries are squeezed into buying these drugs from western firms. Even at the discounts that these firms are now, after much delay, offering them, they remain much more expensive than comparable pills from India or Brazil, who also make AZT.

This is a textbook World Bank move.

It illustrates the true function of the Bank and how it pursues profit over people under the guise of development and humanitarianism. Instead of freeing up money to buy the cheapest (and thus the most) pills, the WB and the ExIm Bank are subsidizing US firms with African debt and taxpayer money so that they can undercut the threat of untrademarked drugs from non-US firms, which sell at pennies to the dollar.

If the World Bank was truly interested in development, it would have accepted the recommendation of the UNAIDS organization, which said that the magnitude of the HIV problem demands that the cheapest pills be available to the countries of Africa. 

But this is a huge market, a huge contract, and it is the job of the US Treasury, which has the largest voice and a veto at the Bank, to make sure that US companies have a foothold in it.

The human costs are of course secondary.

Maybe you own stock in Pfizer or just think that this is how the world works and is how it should work, or at least always will work. But if this tale among thousands makes you sick to your soul, then you can join the millions of people currently thinking critically about the structure of the global economy and how to make it more humane. 

- HIV and AIDS programs on the World Bank website
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