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WB denies report on HIV-test kit 'fraud'

"The findings are personal opinions which the researcher has reached independently, and do not reflect the views of the World Bank," spokesperson Sudip Mozumder tells Hindustan Times.
Hindustan Times | By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON JUL 07, 2007 03:58 PM IST

A spokesperson for the World Bank has described as "personal opinion" the report of a Bank-appointed investigator that said defective HIV-testing kits supplied by the Indian government were putting a large number of Indians at risk.

The Bank has said it has no evidence so far of fraud involving the kits.

"The findings are personal opinions which the researcher has reached independently, and do not reflect the views of the World Bank," Bank official Sudip Mozumder told the

Hindustan Times

late on Friday.

A Bank statement emailed to


said: "The efficacy of blood testing materials depends on numerous factors including packaging and storage and expert application of the test. There is no evidence that the manufacturing of these kits was defective. In addition, the ongoing World Bank review has not substantiated any fraud involved with the kits to date."

Earlier in the day, the

Hindustan Times

website had carried a wire agency report which quoted Kunal Saha, an AIDS researcher based in Columbus, Ohio, as saying there was "fraud" in the distribution of the "bogus HIV testing kits supplied by NACO and used by hospitals across India "

NACO, or the National AIDS Control Organisation, is India's nodal organisation for the formulation of policy and implementation of programmes for the prevention and control of HIV-AIDS. It works under the government of India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The World Bank funds a large part of India's fight against HIV-AIDS.

According to the agency report, Saha had been appointed by the World Bank to investigate allegations about poor quality HIV kits being distributed in India. It said Saha had been permitted by Ana Palacio, senior vice president of the World Bank, to "expose the scam".

"In a letter, the World Bank has informed me that they have no intention to restrict me from my ethical obligation 'to safeguard public health' in India," Saha told the agency. "I am extremely happy that the World Bank has finally agreed to give me the green signal to go ahead with my findings," he added. "I (now) plan to hold a video press conference in New Delhi from the US to come out with what we have found."

Saha was part of a team from the World Bank's Department of Institutional Integrity that visited India in March-April 2007 to investigate the alleged corruption in the distribution of the HIV-testing kits. The Bank is yet to release the team's report.

In its statement to


, the World Bank said concerns about the kits had already been addressed, and efforts were under way to reduce the risk of fraud.

"Concerns about the performance of imported blood testing kits were addressed long before the issue was brought to the attention of the media last fall, the National AIDS Control Organization has informed the World Bank," the statement said.

"The World Bank and the Government of India have been engaged in a comprehensive review of Bank-financed health projects in India to reduce the risk of fraud and corruption in the procurement of pharmaceuticals and medical goods on which millions of lives depend. Recent news reports about suspect HIV testing kits are part of this detailed review," it added.

The statement said that NACO had informed the Bank that earlier reports about poor quality test kits were "under criminal investigation and some arrests had been made". Besides, "NACO had also stopped further procurement of these test kits as a precaution and (had withdrawn) existing kits from circulation."

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