Medicine Men

LONDON, February 12, 2009 (AFP) – International aid agency Oxfam urged the World Bank and rich nations Thursday to stop “wasting” donations and possibly risking lives by backing unproven private healthcare programmes in poor countries. While Lebanon spends twice as much as Sri Lanka on healthcare, its infant and maternal mortality rates are 2.5 and three times higher respectively. A new Oxfam report on healthcare reveals many private schemes perform poorly — in China, for example, one third of drugs dispensed by private vendors are counterfeit — but they continue to be backed by international donors.

“Donors’ romantic views of private sector health providers are completely divorced from the facts,” said report author Anna Marriott.

“In Malawi 70 percent of private providers are shops. For the most part, private healthcare in poor countries is made up of unqualified shopkeepers selling out-of-date medicines. Is that what you would want for your sick baby?”

Oxfam says the World Bank is pushing privatised healthcare despite a lack of evidence that it is the best option, and the US and British development bodies (USAID and DFID), and the Asian Development Bank are following suit.

At the same time, aid for public