Covering the World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Ministerial Forum in Bamako, Mali, did not come without its challenges. The conference was called largely to push the interests of huge international organisations, like World Bank, and to shamelessly promote investment in health systems’ research that will ultimately benefit those who are keen to loan huge amounts of money to poor nations – bound to steep interest rates, of course.
Critics and nay-sayers were not invited to the conference and there was little time allocated for Q&As during which journalists and delegates could ask pertinent questions. Needless to say, this made a journalist’s job of providing balanced coverage extremely difficult. We had to dig deep to find interviewees willing to express critical viewpoints.
For example, WHO and World Bank used the Bamako meeting to lament a huge health “knowledge gap” in Africa. Yet, it is not African governments who lack knowledge but it is, quite clearly, the strategy of international institutions, such as World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to undermine Africa’s health through the policies they have imposed for the past two decades.
What basically happens is that World Bank and IMF use poor and highly indebted African countries’ dependency on their loans to control economic policy-making. They have pushed African governments towards greater economic integration in international markets at the expense of social services and long-term development priorities.
There was another significant facet to the conference, which I found out by pure coincidence when I chatted to a delegate from a Danish health institute over lunch. A few months before the meeting, the WHO had invited organisations of the five regions (Africa, Europe, Asia, Latin America and North America) to make recommendations to inform the agenda of the global forum – but none of the suggestions were actually considered, the Dane, who had led the European process, told me. He said he almost cancelled his conference trip because the WHO’s condescension enraged him profoundly.
It’s a typical case of lip-service, tokenism and pretense consultation processes we see so often when international bodies exert their power, purposefully ignoring the needs of those they are meant to assist. Let’s hope the story beneath has found its way into the international media …