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The World Bank and global health: time for a renewed focus on health policy
  1. Jennifer Prah Ruger
  1. Correspondence to Jennifer Prah Ruger; jenpr{at}

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In July 2013, Timothy Evans became Director of Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank. Just last year, President Obama nominated Jim Yong Kim, a global health expert, as president of the World Bank. These choices both signify global health's ascendance in development practice and put the spotlight on global health in American foreign policy and international relations. Good news for global health.

In an increasingly pluralistic and confused global health landscape, however, the World Bank, under new leadership, must map out and stick to a clear plan for global health impact, one that builds on and leverages its unique role in health and development policy and seizes opportunities in globalisation for global health equity. Some might question the World Bank's involvement in global health altogether and such critiques are worthy of investigation beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say, however, that what follows argues that the World Bank does have a role in global health, one that requires significant focus for pronounced impact.

To achieve health sector-wide results on the ground, the World Bank should focus on health policy and health systems in developing countries and leave narrow technical control of specific diseases to other global health institutions. And sustainability is key—the World Bank should seek to eliminate countries’ need for its assistance altogether. All this is possible: just look at the health policy achievements of South Korea, Japan and Singapore, countries that have developed their health systems alongside their economies, and ‘graduated’ from development assistance. Each now offers …

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  • Funding The Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.