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UK offers to help world’s poorest countries provide free health care

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 05 August 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3177
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. 1London

    The UK prime minister, Gordon Brown, has approached governments of some of the world’s poorest countries, offering to help them develop free healthcare services. It is believed that the campaign will start with services for pregnant women and children.

    In several countries, including Uganda, Ghana, and Zambia, it has been shown that abolishing fees for healthcare services paid at the point of use is relatively inexpensive but that it can have a big effect on the health of the local population, allowing doctors to reach many more thousands of patients who would not otherwise be able to afford to pay for help.

    The UK Department for International Development is one of the largest donors to many developing countries and has promised to spend £6bn (€4.7bn; $6.8bn) on health by 2015.

    Douglas Alexander, the international development secretary, said, “It is not right that people are denied basic health care because they are too poor. Poor health and poverty go hand in hand, and so we must first improve people’s health if we are to improve their lives.”

    The department said that it could help countries move from a fee based to a free healthcare system by providing them with technical assistance and drugs and ensuring that doctors and nurses receive fair pay deals.

    In Ghana British funding has already helped provide free health care for an extra 433 000 expectant mothers, while in Burundi the number of health checks among children aged under 5 years has trebled since fees were abolished.

    “This won’t happen overnight,” said Mr Alexander, “but we hope we will see a historic shift that will revolutionise health services in the world’s poorest countries.”


    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3177

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