The International Monetary Fund has been accused of exacerbating the Ebola crisis by pressuring West African governments to reduce healthcare spending.
Policies pushed by the IMF, including limits on government spending and public-sector wage bills, left Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone unable to combat the virus effectively, according to Cambridge University researchers.
“A major reason why the Ebola outbreak spread so rapidly was the weakness of healthcare systems in the region,” said Cambridge sociologist Alexander Kentikelenis, lead author of a paper in the journal Lancet Global Health. “Policies advocated by the IMF have contributed to underfunded, insufficiently staffed and poorly prepared health systems in the countries with Ebola outbreaks.”
The IMF has faced regular criticism for requiring developing countries to adopt austere free-market policies as a condition of receiving loans and financial aid.
The authors of the Lancet study claim that policies attached to IMF lending programmes in West Africa between 1990 and 2014 led to the weakening of already fragile healthcare systems.
An IMF spokesman said the researchers’ claims were “completely untrue”, adding that “since 2009, loans from the IMF to low-income countries have been at zero interest rates”, freeing up spending “on health and education”.
Last month, the IMF announced £190m in extra funding to fight Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
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