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Health spending in poor countries must double immediately to prevent millions of deaths: Oxfam

Tuesday, March 31, 2020, 17:54 GMT+7
Health spending in poor countries must double immediately to prevent millions of deaths: Oxfam
Medical staff display signs after the director of the hospital, surgeon Jerry Bitar, was kidnapped, as Haiti battles an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) amid a spike in gang violence, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti March 27, 2020. Photo: Reuters

A package of nearly US$160 billion in immediate debt cancelation and aid is needed to help prevent millions of deaths as a result of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), according to Oxfam.

The five-point Global Public Health Plan and Emergency Response would enable poor countries to take action to prevent the spread of the disease and build the capacity of health systems to care for those affected, Oxfam said in an embargoed press release on Monday.

Oxfam International is a confederation of 20 independent affiliates working to help people with support including clean water, sanitation, food, and shelter.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread suffering in rich countries, overwhelming some of the best healthcare systems in the world," Oxfam said.

"But with the disease now spreading to many poor countries where high levels of poverty and inequality risk accelerating [it], the public health challenges are even greater."

Nearly three billion people across the developing world do not have access to clean water, and millions more do not have access to adequate healthcare and live in crowded slums or refugee camps where social isolation is impossible, it said.

Women are forecast to be hit the hardest as they make up 70 percent of health workers and carry out most of the unpaid care work, Oxfam said.

"We know from Oxfam’s experience of fighting Ebola that with rapid action, this disease can be stalled and its catastrophic impact stopped. But we must act now and on a scale never seen before," Oxfam International interim executive director Jose Maria Vera was quoted as saying in the press release.

“Without urgent, ambitious and historic action, we could easily see the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War Two.”

The Imperial College estimates that in the absence of interventions the novel coronavirus could have led to 40 million deaths in the coming year.

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 -- less than ten percent of the U.S. fiscal stimulus to fight the novel coronavirus.

While some donor institutions have begun to increase funding, the scale is not anywhere near the immense size of the challenge, Oxfam asserts.

Oxfam said it is working with local partners, ministries of health and key UN agencies in 65 countries to respond to the crisis and help save lives.

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 huge investment in the prevention of COVID-19, employing ten million new paid and protected health workers, making healthcare free, requisition of private healthcare facilities to fight the virus, and making vaccines and treatments a global public good.

“It’s understandable that national leaders are focused on helping their own citizens, but G20 leaders must also find the space for supporting poor nations too," Vera added.

"We can only beat this pandemic if we act in solidarity with every country and for every person. No one is safe until we are all safe.”

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