Over 1,100 health professionals call for G20 to cancel developing countries’ debt

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- Short URL: https://www.oxfam.org.uk/mc/g2hhqx/

Over 1,100 health professionals from 66 countries have signed a letter urging the G20 to cancel almost $100 billion in debt for 73 developing countries, ahead of tomorrow’s extraordinary G20 Finance Minister meeting.

The letter, organised by Oxfam and supported by Doctors’ Association UK, urges the G20 to cancel all debt repayments totaling $97 billion (£73 billion) from this month until the end of 2022.

Signatories to the letter include Dr Nisreen Alwan, Epidemiologist and Associate Professor in Public Health, University of Southampton, Dr Amir Khan, NHS Doctor, author and broadcaster, Professor Trisha Greenhalgh, Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford and Dr Ranj Singh, Consultant Paediatric Emergency Physician, broadcaster, author and columnist.

The current G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) only postpones a fraction of debt payments until mid-2021 and many countries are spending more on repaying debt than on their health services.

Dr Nisreen Alwan said The Covid-19 pandemic has brought countries around the world to the brink of an extreme health and economic crisis, the effects of which will be felt for decades to come. It has starkly exposed the widespread failure to invest in strong and universal public health systems. As a result, millions of lives are at risk and health inequalities are dramatically widening”.

Even before Covid-19 hit, there was a shortage of 17.4 million health workers worldwide, mostly in low- and lower-middle income countries. Oxfam analysis has shown that debt cancellation for this year alone could provide three years’ worth of salaries for:

  • The 14,000 extra nurses needed in Malawi, currently with only a quarter of the nurses it requires
  • The 24,500 extra doctors needed in Ghana, currently with less than one fifth of the doctors it requires
  • The 47,468 extra nurses needed in Democratic Republic of Congo, currently with less than half the number of nurses it requires

Dr Amir Khan said “Everyone has the right to free, quality healthcare but it’s poor countries who have the biggest gaps in their health workforce. If debt is cancelled, countries would be able to invest more in their hospitals and health workers and the world’s poorest people would be better protected.”

Ana Arendar, Oxfam Head of Inequality Campaign said “At a time when hospitals and healthcare systems are buckling under the strain of Covid-19, it is perverse that poor countries are having to pay $3 billion (£2.3 billion) a month in debt repayments to rich banks, investment funds or the World Bank, while their populations fall further into poverty and destitution.

“We urge the G20 to go further and provide permanent debt relief, not continue with this temporary fix that does little but delay the problem. This unprecedented global health emergency demands an unprecedented, radical response from the world’s richest countries to truly support the world’s poorest people.”

There is currently no global common agreement for countries struggling with debt repayments, with countries left to fend for themselves individually against their creditors. At the G20 Finance Minister meeting tomorrow, a common framework for debt restructuring will be discussed, but Oxfam says that this will be meaningless unless it is binding and includes all bilateral, multilateral and private creditors on equal terms.

Other notable signatories include Professor John Wright, Doctor & Epidemiologist, Dr Rachel Clarke, Palliative Care and author, Dr Guddi Singh, Paediatric Registrar and broadcaster, Dr Ronx, Emergency Medicine and broadcaster, Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, Intensive Care and President of Doctors’ Association UK, Dr Roger Henderson, Senior GP, broadcaster and author, Dr David Noble, Honorary Professor of Community Palliative Care, Sheffield Hallam University, Dr David Nicholl, Neurologist and columnist, Dr Stefano Vella, Director of the National Centre for Global Health in Italy and Dr Christophe Prudhomme, Emergency Physician at Samu 93 Hospital and spokesperson for the Association of Emergency Physicians of France.


Notes to Editor

The letter, signed by 1,136 health professionals, is also supported by over 18,500 people. A full list of signatories can be found here

The total debt repayments due for the 73 developing countries from November 2020 to the end of December 2022 were calculated here using the World Bank DSSI database. This is for all creditors and includes the $5.3billion (£4 billion) debt repayments currently postponed until mid-2021 under the Debt Service Suspension Initiative

The 73 developing countries eligible for the Debt Service Suspension Initiative can be found here

In October, G20 Finance Ministers agreed to extend the Debt Service Suspension Initiative from the end of 2020 to June 2021, with a planned review in April for a possible extension until the end of 2021

A shortage of 17.4 million health workers worldwide, mostly in low- and lower-middle income countries is from the World Health Organisation Primary Health Care on the Road to Universal Health Coverage: 2019 Monitoring Report

Oxfam’s debt cancellation analysis for Malawi, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo is available on request

Doctors’ Association UK is an NGO led by frontline doctors

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