According to Oxfam International, rich country donors and the World Bank are wasting money and risking lives by continuing to push unproven and discredited private healthcare programs in poor countries. Oxfam’s warning comes in a new report, Blind Optimism: Challenging the myths about private health care in poor countries. The report gives considerable evidence of the poor performance of private sector-led health care initiatives globally. In China, for example, one third of drugs dispensed by private vendors are counterfeit, while in seven sub-Saharan African countries the WHO found that most anti-malarial drugs in private facilities failed quality tests. The World Bank itself has said that the private sector generally performs worse on technical quality than the public sector.
Anna Marriott, author of the report, said: “Donors’ romantic views of private sector health providers are completely divorced from the facts. In Malawi 70% of private providers are shops. For the most part, private health care in poor countries is made up of unqualified shopkeepers selling out-of-date medicines.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 has found that the World Bank uses its unmatched policy influence worldwide to promote privatized health despite lack of evidence. At the same time its private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, recently announced it will mobilise $1bn to finance the growth of the private sector’s role in health care in Africa. Many other donors and influential organizations have also increased their efforts to encourage and fund more expansion of private-sector lead health care projects. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department for International Development in the UK (DFID), and the Asian Development Bank have followed the Bank’s example in spending millions of aid dollars funding large-scale programs to contract-out service delivery to the private sector.
Meanwhile, aid for primary health-care services in poor countries has almost halved in the last decade. Oxfam warns that cuts in public health services are condemning hundreds of millions of people to early preventable death or needless suffering – and a massive scale up in public health spending is required. After years of disinvestment, and with the allocation of aid for primary health-care services in poor countries dropping by almost half in the last decade, the public sector in many instances is weak and badly run. Oxfam’s research shows that scaling up government provided health services has been central to rapidly improving life chances in poor countries.