Social services


World Bank’s “wakeup call” on universal health

7 July 2015

A June report by the World Bank and UN has found that lack of access to basic health services has pushed six per cent of the global population into poverty, according to the Bank’s own data. The report which monitored universal healthcare coverage in 2013, also revealed that over 400 million people lacked access to at least one basic health service, such as family planning, child immunisation, tuberculosis treatment, and access to clean water and sanitation. The World Bank’s senior health director, Dr Tim Evans, called the report “a wakeup call.”

According to the Bank’s 2015 World Development Report, user fees discourage take-up of healthcare by poor people. Despite this, the Bank, via its private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), continues to invest in private healthcare. According to Chinese website Xinhuanet, Khama Rogo, the head of Health in Africa (HIA) initiative, the IFC’s $1 billion health initiative, told a May conference in Kenya that HIA will assist in developing laws to “make it mandatory for all households to have at least basic health insurance”. Premiums “for the low-income segment of the population” will be covered by governments, however, “individuals who want more than the basic cover will have to work with private companies to get additional cover” he said. Xinhuanet reported Rogo as saying that “the universal health insurance will force public hospitals to improve their quality because they will have to compete with the private hospitals.” The HIA has been heavily criticised by NGO Oxfam over its failure to reach low-income groups (see Observer Winter 2015).

The IFC has also continued to invest in private hospitals and health facilities. In February the Bank board approved a $1.7 million loan to Colombian hospital Fundacion Cardio Vascular (FCV) “for the replacement of older equipment with more energy efficient models”. In 2014 the IFC invested $30 million in FCV for a 468 bed “high quality complex”. The hospital’s promotional material states that “international patients are welcome to relax in our lounge location. Internet access and complementary international newspapers are available”, whilst its services also include “Dining, entertainment and transportation assistance.”

 New global fund for reproductive health launching at Addis

The new Global Financing Facility (GFF) for reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health, set up as a World Bank trust fund (see Observer Spring 14), is due to launch at the July Financing for Development (FFD) conference in Addis Ababa (see Observer Spring 2015). A June briefing by Global Policy Watch, a civil society watchdog on the FFD process, highlighted that the GFF will be funded through “the crowding-in of additional domestic resources, particularly from the private sector, and by ‘generating efficiencies through smart financing.’ ” Furthermore the GFF working group, which developed the concept of the GFF, only included “three governmental representatives from the global South”.