Letter: Third World debt

Sir: When the leaders of the G8 countries meet in Birmingham this weekend, they will be discussing the problem of Third World debt. This is not before time, as a burden of essentially unpayable foreign debt has beset many of the world's poorest countries for the last two decades.

Debt repayments are draining these countries of vital financial resources, hindering economic growth and poverty-reduction and preventing them from tackling enormous health problems. The United Nations Development Programme has estimated that the lives of 21 million children could be saved in Africa by the year 2000 if money currently spent on debt repayments was diverted to investments in human development. In Ethiopia, where over 100,000 children die each year from preventable diseases, debt repayments are four times higher than public spending on healthcare, and in Tanzania, where 40 per cent of the population die before the age of 35, debt repayments are six times greater than spending on health.

As part of the Jubilee 2000 Coalition, we call on the G8 countries to cancel the unpayable debt of the world's poorest countries, as a gesture which would mark the millennium in the most significant way possible.

Professor DAVID BAUM

President, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

Dr MICHAEL BRINDLE

President, Royal College of Radiologists

Dr JUNE CROWN

President, Medact; President, Faculty of Public Health Medicine

Dr KIT HARLING

President, Faculty of Occupational Medicine

Dr R E KENDELL

President, Royal College of Psychiatrists

Dr SANDY MACARA

Chairman of Council, British Medical Association

Professor COLIN MacKAY

President, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow

Professor RODERICK MacSWEEN

President, Royal College of Pathologists

Sir NAREN PATEL

President, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

Professor J C PETRIE

President, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh

Professor LESLEY REES

Head, International Department, Royal College of Physicians

London WC1

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