Is the IMF Damaging Health?

Earlier this week the Guardian published an article titled Poor countries with IMF loans ‘divert aid from public health’,which discusses research led by Oxford University that highlights the relationships between IMF borrowing and spending on public health and shows that there is a high correlation between countries taking IMF financing and very low levels of public expenditure on health.

Unfortunately, the original paper by Dr David Stuckler of Oxford, Dr Sanjay Basu at the University of California, San Francisco and Professor Martin McKee at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is not freely available in the public domain. However, the summary is available and states:

As found in existing studies, for each $1 of development assistance for health, about $0.37 is added to the health system. However, evaluating IMF-borrowing versus non-IMF-borrowing countries reveals that non-borrowers add about $0.45 whereas borrowers add less than $0.01 to the health system. On average, health system spending grew at about half the speed when countries were exposed to the IMF than when they were not.

They conclude:

It is important to take account of the political economy of global health finance when interpreting data on financial flows.

This is critically important when we look at interventions necessary to provide health for populations. In environments where the ability of governments to spend their way out of trouble is constrained by organisations like the IMF, it is important to make exceptions for the support of health systems – which this study shows is not happening at the moment.

It is useful to compare and contrast what is going on in developing countries with what has happened in the UK. Despite record deficits and record cuts in public spending, the coalition government has made attempts to ring-fence and protect the UK’s health budget.

Should we be be satisfied with anything less for some of the most vulnerable people in the world?


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