Oxfam Report Claims ‘Vital Opportunities’ Missed By World Bank To Support Covid Response

Despite the presence of billions of dollars in emergency World Bank funding, healthcare was either not available or had to be purchased during the novel coronavirus pandemic by millions of people in low-income countries of the world, a new research has concluded.

According to an Oxfam report published on Friday, efforts to strengthen health systems or removing any financial barriers preventing their usage was not achieved by the World Bank’s $6bn emergency health fund that was given to 71 countries in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This report was prepared by Oxfam after reviewing the World Bank’s project documents related to assessing its support for water, sanitation and hygiene services and public health promotion as well as actions undertaken to eliminate financial barriers to healthcare. Also reviewed were documents related to work on enhancing the supply of healthcare workers and the role of the private sector in the public health response.

The report found that the World Bank “missed vital opportunities to strengthen public health systems so they can tackle Covid-19 and deliver health for all in the future” even though the report found that funding was considered strong in some areas, particularly in eth area of disease prevention.

“We are in the middle of a global health emergency. All countries are facing vastly increased demand for healthcare. There has never been a more crucial time for World Bank leadership and funding to make access to healthcare free, and support millions of new paid and protected doctors, nurses and other health workers. They need to urgently change course to achieve this,” said Oxfam’s health policy adviser Anna Marriott.

Oxfam found that reducing out-of-pocket expenditure was the most significant failure. About 1 billion people get blocked every year from accessing healthcare resulting in avoidable deaths and an increase in transmission of disease.

The report also found that 89 per cent of the World Bank’s country projects did not commit to World Health Organization guidance to countries suggesting removal of all user fees for all healthcare at least for the time period of the health crisis. Among those few countries that did remove fees, none made the announcement publicly that the removal was applicable for all health services.  

“Let’s make no mistake, user fees for health [services] kill and are pushing millions of people into poverty,” said Marriott. “In the face of this pandemic, the World Bank has an urgent moral responsibility to support the removal of these fees.”

“The World Bank Group is working to support the COVID-19 health response in over 110 developing countries — home to more than 70% of the world’s population. Our response is focused on saving lives and protecting the poorest households, so that people can rebuild their lives and livelihoods. We are also working to help at least 100 countries get ready to deploy COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines, to ensure that developing countries are not left behind during this unprecedented crisis,” the World Bank said in a statement.

(Adapted from TheGuardian.com)

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