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Ending global poverty begins with women’s rights

Zambia’s debt cancellation helps make health care free

Zambia’s debt cancellation helps make health care free

May 10, 2010

Zambia has introduced free health care for people living in rural areas, scrapping fees which for years had made health care inaccessible for millions, a move made possible thanks to debt cancellation and G8 aid increases.

Zambia is now investing an additional $4 billion in health and education.

"People often bemoan the lack of good news coming out of Africa," said Robert Fox, executive director of Oxfam Canada. "Here is an example of what can happen when people in the rich world and the developing world push their leaders to deliver. Supporters of the Make Poverty History campaign should be proud of this achievement."

Sixty-five per cent of Zambia’s citizens live on less than a dollar a day, yet the average trip to a clinic cost more than double that amount. It was the equivalent of a Canadian earning minimum wage having to pay more than $100 just to visit a clinic.

User fees were introduced in Zambia under IMF and World Bank pressure in the early 1990s. Young girls in rural areas suffered most under the policy, as their families were rarely willing or able to pay for their treatment.

Zambia is the third African country to cancel health care fees, after Uganda and South Africa. When Uganda removed fees most clinics saw a doubling in their patient numbers, and Zambia can now expect a similar surge.

Sadly, this will exacerbate the chronic shortage of health workers: currently there is only one doctor per 14,000 people (compared to one doctor per 560 people in Canada) and the numbers of nurses in the country needs to be doubled. Wages in the public sector are abysmal and working conditions appalling.

"We commend the government for removing user fees in rural areas and urge them to do the same in urban areas. More money is now urgently needed for medicines and to improve the working conditions of doctors and nurses," said Henry Malumo, National Coordinator for the Global Call to Action against Poverty in Zambia.

"Zambia is one of CIDA’s countries of focus," Fox said. "Canada should now help the country train and retain health care professionals. And Canada must press the IMF to end loan conditions that restrict the employment of extra health care workers."

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