Bulletin #37: No to austerity, yes to strong health systems

This fortnight  

The World Health Organization, in its role as the United Nations’ health agency, formally stands in the lead for strengthening public health systems worldwide. Yet the role that international financial institutions play in the shaping of health systems has only grown with time. Today, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund often determine how health delivery in a country is going to look. At times, their influence might very well overshadow WHO’s.

In this issue of the People’s Health Dispatch we focus on the effects that World Bank and IMF programs have had on the lives of health workers and the people relying on public health systems. We begin with an overview of structural adjustment programs and austerity measures in the Global South by Ronald Labonté.

Health activists and researchers Natalie Rhodes and Remco van de Pas reflect on how the World Bank reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic and the launch of the Fund for Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response.

The Bank’s new fund is likely to bring additional limitations for governments in the Global South where the planning and organization of health systems is concerned. The same thing is true for IMF programs, which have a long history of undermining public services in countries like Ghana and Kenya.

The negative effects of structural adjustment programs and austerity measures are multifold, especially when it comes to women’s health. A new report by ActionAid and Public Services International shows that women are shouldering most of the burden of weakened public health systems.

Health workers are not only dealing with attacks from international financial institutions, but with pressures from right-wing governments too. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, president of the Turkish Medical Association, was arrested under charges of spreading terrorist propaganda at the end of October. The move against the elected leadership of the TMA is likely an attempt by the Turkish government to weaken and silence this progressive physicians' organization.

In Data speaks, we bring a snapshot of the world’s progress in the fight against tuberculosis. Recent setbacks have been painted as a result of the global focus on COVID-19, but data shows that progress was faltering long before 2020.

IMF and World Bank: no to austerity, yes to stronger health systems

International financial institutions have shaped health systems, especially in the Global South, through programs of structural adjustment and austerity policies. It is imperative that these are replaced by pathways for strengthening public health systems and the social determinants of health

Structural adjustment by any other name: International Financial Institutions and health in Ghana and Kenya

A look at the IMF’s programs in Ghana and Kenya reveals the continuity of more privatization, more cuts, and more threats to people’s right to health

IMF’s pinkwashing has multifold effects on women’s health

Roos Saalbrink talks about the different ways that IMF programmes undermine women’s right to health and the rights of women health workers

Video: How the World Bank weakens health systems

Health researchers Natalie Rhodes and Remco van de Pas discuss about the nature and limitations of the World Bank Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response fund

Short reads

President of Turkish Medical Association Şebnem Korur Fincancı detained

Dr Şebnem Korur Fincancı was detained on charges of spreading terrorist propaganda after she spoke about alleged use of chemical weapons by the Turkish army against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq

Data speaks

The Global TB Report released last week shows that little progress has been made to achieve the targets set by the World Health Organization and United Nations High Level Meeting on TB held in 2018. While the progress slowed down during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with regard to the number of deaths, things weren't looking up before the pandemic either. Data from the reports of 2019 and 2020 reveals that huge funding gaps existed even before COVID-19, and progress towards combating TB was minimal.

Source: Global TB Report 2020 and Global TB Report 2022
Source: UN High-Level Meeting on TB: funding targets

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