$160bn needed to prevent millions of coronavirus deaths in poor countries

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- Short URL: https://www.oxfam.org.uk/mc/8dc7n3/

Oxfam today called for a package of nearly $160 billion (£130bn) in immediate debt cancellation and aid to fund a global emergency and public health response to help prevent millions of deaths as a result of the coronavirus.

The funding would enable poor countries to take action to prevent the spread of the disease and improve health systems to care for those affected.

The pandemic has caused widespread suffering in rich countries, overwhelming some of the best healthcare systems in the world. But with the disease now spreading to many poor countries where high levels of poverty and inequality risk accelerating the disease, the public health challenges are even greater. In Mali there are just three ventilators for one million people. In Zambia, one doctor for 10,000 people.

Nearly three billion people across the developing world do not have access to clean water, millions more do not have adequate healthcare and live in crowded slums or refugee camps where social isolation is impossible. As women make up 70 per cent of health workers and carry out most unpaid care work, it will hit them the hardest.

Danny Sriskandarajah, chief executive, Oxfam GB said:

“Coronavirus is bringing misery and suffering to rich and poor. But for millions of people in overcrowded refugee camps without clean water, already weakened by hunger and disease, and in countries with little or no health facilities the impact could be catastrophic.

“Just as our collective efforts in the UK are rightly focused on helping those who are currently feeling the terrible brunt of the virus, it is critical that we act to prevent its spread unchecked amongst the poorest and most vulnerable countries.”

Imperial College estimates that without urgent action the coronavirus could have caused as many as 40 million deaths in the coming year, with poorer countries facing a higher burden.  Oxfam calculates that doubling the health spending of the 85 poorest countries, home to nearly half the world’s population, would cost $159.5 billion. This is less than 10 per cent of the US fiscal stimulus to fight coronavirus. While some donor institutions have begun to increase funding, the scale is not yet anywhere near the immense size of the challenge.

Governments including the UK must also urgently fund the UN’s $2 billion appeal to meet the desperate need now emerging in countries like Syria, already suffering from a major humanitarian crisis.

Oxfam is calling for the G20 and other national governments to tackle the virus head on by agreeing an ambitious Global Public Health Plan and Emergency Response. The five-point plan calls for:

  1. Huge investment in prevention. Public health promotion, community engagement, access for humanitarian workers and provision of clean water and sanitation, especially handwashing
  2. 10 million new paid and protected health workers. Together with urgent funding and equipment for local responders and humanitarians already on the ground
  3. Healthcare must be free.  All fees for health should be removed, and free testing and treatment delivered
  4. Governments must requisition all private facilities. Governments must requisition all healthcare capacity in their countries, ensuring that all facilities, private and public are directed towards fighting this virus and meeting all other essential healthcare needs.
  5. Vaccines and treatments must be a global public good. Global agreement must be reached that vaccines and treatments, when ready, will be made rapidly available to everyone who needs it free of charge. The profits of pharmaceutical corporations cannot be put ahead of the future of humanity.

Oxfam is working with local partners, governments and key UN agencies in 65 countries in response to the crisis and help save lives. This includes preventive measures like distributing soap and building handwashing stations in the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazaar, clean water, sanitation and hygiene in Zaatari camp in Jordan and providing beds, handwashing facilities and protective clothing in quarantine centres in Gaza.


Notes to editor

Oxfam’s policy briefing How to Confront the Coronavirus Catastrophe is available here

Oxfam International is a confederation of 20 independent affiliates and last year, helped over 19 million people with support including clean water, sanitation, food and shelter.

Oxfam’s response to the virus includes:

  • In Burkina Faso, where 780,000 people are internally displaced, Oxfam is currently working to ensure that displaced people and the communities in which they are living have access to safe, clean water.
  • In Pakistan Oxfam has installed water tanks at quarantine centres so people there have a clean water supply.
  • In Lebanon, a public health awareness campaign is underway in informal settlements of refugees, and hotlines and WhatsApp groups have been created. We are also preparing extra toilets, handwashing facilities and water tanks for families who may need to self-quarantine.
  • In China, we have been working with our local partners to help those at the greatest risk of catching the virus in poor communities, by distributing protective supplies and food to vulnerable groups (such as impoverished people with HIV/AIDs, migrant families, cleaning workers, low income workers, domestic helpers)

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