Intended for healthcare professionals


Health care in poor countries must be defended against privatisation, Oxfam says

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 06 July 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b2737
  1. Peter Moszynski
  1. 1London

    The UK charity Oxfam has joined with the public services union UNISON to demand that free public health care in poor countries must not become a “casualty of privatisation.”

    Their campaign was launched on 1 July, with the delivery by ambulance of a “prescription for immediate action” to the Department for International Development. The message was received by Mike Foster, junior minister for international development.

    The campaign calls on the UK government to act as a “champion for health care for all” by encouraging investment by the World Bank and major international donors in free public health services in developing countries, to redress the shortage of 4.25 million healthcare professionals in these countries, and to stop promoting “risky and ineffective private healthcare services.”

    Dave Prentis, UNISON’s general secretary, said, “We have a duty to make sure that every penny in aid goes into delivering health care to people in the poorest nations. Private companies should not be allowed to cream off their cut before the money gets to the front line. The government must act on the evidence and commit itself to free public health care for the sake of the world’s poor.”

    Anna Marriott, a policy adviser at Oxfam, said, “Poor people worldwide are being asked to pay for health care they simply can’t afford. Every day 1400 women die needlessly in child birth, and three quarters of people infected with the HIV virus go without lifesaving drugs.

    “Oxfam research shows that the best way to ensure quality essential health care for all is through publicly funded, publicly provided services. Despite this the UK government and particularly the World Bank continue to push for more money to be spent on unproven and risky private health services that won’t deliver for poor people.”

    She said that such policies go against the demands of the UK public, citing a recent survey by YouGov in which people rated “free public health care for poor countries as their number one priority for health aid.”

    Ms Marriott said, “The UK government should be championing public health services and not the private sector. People must be put before profits.” Citing the increased risk of drug resistance resulting from self diagnosis without medical intervention, she said, “We don’t believe that initiatives which promote the sale of medicines through drug shops and market stalls are the answer to saving the lives of the poorest.”

    The campaign says that free health care should be available to all because:

    • No one should have to check their wallet before seeing a doctor

    • In a world rich in resources, no one should die from a preventable illness

    • Health care for all in poor countries has only ever been achieved where the government is the main provider

    • Each year, user fees for health care push more than 100 million people into poverty

    • The private healthcare sector puts profits before people

    • Saving mothers’ lives depends on strong, well staffed, and accessible public healthcare services, and

    • “Health is a fundamental human right” (World Health Organization).


    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b2737

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