For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Sarah Dransfield, Oxfam Press Officer, 01865 472269/ 07767 085636,

Too Poor to Pay: Over Sixty Organizations Call on World Leaders to Make Free Healthcare a Reality for Millions

People everywhere should have the right to free health care

LONDON - Failure to provide free public healthcare
in poor countries means that millions of people are paying with their
lives, according to a research report published today by a group of 62
NGOs and health unions. The report, "Your Money or Your Life,"
says that half a million pregnant women die each year because they do
not have access to healthcare and people are facing abuses such as
being imprisoned in clinics, because they cannot pay doctors fees.

Millions of poor people should be offered a lifeline next week, when
governments have the chance to expand free healthcare in developing
countries. World leaders will meet at the United Nations General
Assembly for a high-level event on health on the 23rd September where
they are expected to extend free health services for at least seven
countries: Burundi, Ghana, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal and
Sierra Leone.

But leading NGOs including Action Aid, Merlin, Médecins Sans
Frontières, Oxfam, Save the Children, World Vision, and White Ribbon
Alliance are worried that announcements alone are not enough. This
initiative must be the start of a solid commitment to financial and
technical support and be extended universally to all poor countries.
Oxfam GB Chief Executive Barbara Stocking said: "How many lives will be
needlessly lost before leaders act? Poor people simply cannot afford
fees and inaction will continue to deny access to life-saving
healthcare for millions."

Jasmine Whitbread, Save the Children's Chief Executive, said: "If free
health care had been introduced in 2000 when world leaders promised to
reduce child mortality by two-thirds, the lives of more than two
million children could have been saved by now. Leaders have the power
and the responsibility to make healthcare free for poor families.
Allowing any more children to die because they can't afford treatment
is inexcusable."
For people living in these seven countries the initiative could make the difference between life and death:

  • In Burundi 88 per cent of people live on just $2 a day. People have to pay for healthcare and are reportedly imprisoned by clinics if they don't have the money.
  • In Ghana the average life expectancy is just 58 years. Seventy per cent of people in the three northern regions live on less than $1 a day.
  • In Liberia one in nine children will not live to see their fifth birthday and less than 20 per cent of the rural population have access to health facilities.
  • In Malawi one woman in every hundred will die in pregnancy and childbirth. The entire population of nearly 14 million (is looked after by just) have only 266 registered doctors.
  • In Mozambique 1.3 million people are living with HIV and AIDS and 60 per cent of HIV-infected adults are women.
  • In Nepal a newborn baby dies every 20 minutes and 49 per cent of children have symptoms of chronic malnutrition.
  • In Sierra Leone life expectancy is only 34.3 years,
    it has the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world and
    only 7 per cent of the rural population has access to safe sanitation

Progress on health is desperately off track and the 2015 Millennium
Development Goals deadline is fast approaching. Every year 4 million
newborn babies die within 28 days of birth* and the number of women
dying in pregnancy and childbirth has barely changed since 1990*,
despite the MDG commitment to reduce the number of deaths by three

Governments need new funding to scale up and expand services, recruit
and retain more doctors and health workers and provide more facilities
that are easy to reach and accessible to everyone.

Adrienne Germain, President of the International Women's Health
Coalition said, "I've seen myself the impact of imposing-and
lifting-user fees on women, children and families. We urgently need the
carefully designed action called for in "Your Money or Your Life."

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said, "People everywhere should
have the right to free health care and access to qualified health
workers. Quality public health services are also vital to economic
growth and prosperity."


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Oxfam International is a confederation of 13 like-minded organizations working together and with partners and allies around the world to bring about lasting change. Oxfam works directly with communities and that seeks to influence the powerful to ensure that poor people can improve their lives and livelihoods and have a say in decisions that affect them.

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