April 02, 2006

Take that, cynics!

In the last decade, one of the major ways in which activists have sought to help poor nations has been to pressure international lenders to forgive all or part of the crushing debts owed by these countries. And one of the main arguments used by opponents of debt relief is that it won't make any difference; that the money saved by poor nations will just get wasted or go into the pockets of corrupt officials.

Those critics might want to take a look at what's happening in Zambia:

Waiting in line at a Zambia health clinic

Women and children in the waiting room
of a rural health clinic in Zambia.
[Photographer unknown]


The government of Zambia today (1 April) introduced free health care for people living in rural areas, scrapping fees which for years had made health care inaccessible for millions.

The move was made possible using money from the debt cancellation and aid increases agreed at the G8 in Gleneagles last July, when Zambia received $4 billion of debt relief; money it is now investing in health and education.

65 per cent of Zambia's citizens live on less than a dollar a day. Until today the average trip to a clinic would have cost more than double that amount, the equivalent of a UK worker having to 120 (US$200) just to visit a clinic.

"This is one of the first concrete examples of how the G8 deal last year has made a real difference to peoples' lives," said Barbara Stocking, Director of Oxfam. "People often bemoan the lack of good news coming out of Africa — well here's an example of real progress. It shows what can happen when people both in the rich world and the developing world push their leaders to deliver. Those who backed the Make Poverty History campaign last year should be proud of this achievement."

User fees were introduced in Zambia under IMF and World Bank pressure in the early 1990s. Young girls in rural areas were the main victims of the policy as their families were rarely willing or able to pay for their treatment.

Of course, the critics of debt cancellation in the US may never have to eat their words, because — so far, at least — this magpie has been unable to find any reference to Zambia's new health care policies in any major US media. Other than the Oxfam press release quoted in this post, the only other reference to the story we could find in a Google News search on 'Zambia health' was at AllAfrica.com — an excellent news source, but not one that's widely known. And even that was just another copy of the Oxfam release.

I guess only the bad news from poor countries is important, huh?

Via Newshog.

Posted by Magpie at April 2, 2006 03:47 AM | International | Technorati links |