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Monday, 20 December, 1999, 14:35 GMT
Debt relief conditions 'killing children'

Africa dominates countries labelled most heavily indebted

The UK charity Christian Aid has issued a warning that children in the world's poorest countries are dying as a result of conditions being attached to debt relief.

And although it has welcomed recent initiatives to cancel debt, it says the only debt relief which will help is that given with no strings attached.

Christian Aid calls upon the British Government to unilaterally cancel British debts as a New Year's gift to the poorest peoples of the world
Christian Aid

The charity says that health spending has fallen by 15% in the 53 countries where the International Monetary Fund had demanded cuts in government expenditure, with African countries bearing the brunt.

In these countries, the report says, public spending has been cut and health services which used to be free now charge for treatment.

World Debt
This was supposed to recover costs so that hospitals and clinics could provide better services. But, says Christian Aid, this has not happened.

Hospitals still cannot recover their costs - meanwhile, the poor can no longer afford medical treatment.

And the safety net of basic health provision which the state was still supposed to provide for the poor does not exist - governments, struggling to keep up debt payments, just do not have the money to pay for it.

'Life expectancy falling'

Uganda, considered a model by the IMF, has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of children suffering from treatable diseases, says the charity.

And one of the report's authors, Mark Farmaner, says that the number of children suffering from measles, cholera and malaria has risen in the past two years.

"We are seeing instead of a gradual reduction in child mortality, that life expectancy is starting to fall for the first time," he said.

Africa's struggle
130,000 children die every week in Africa
1 in 7 babies in Mali die before one year old
Africa spends four times as much on debt repayments as on health care
"Many of the conditions are actually doing the reverse of helping the poor," he added.

The charity also gives the example of Tanzania, which it says will be the recipient of a debt relief package agreed last June at the G8 summit in Cologne.

Yet Tanzania will still have to spend $4 per person per year on debt repayments and only $2.50 per person on health care, says the charity.

Christian Aid wants the British Government to push for reform of the policy of structural adjustments, following the government's announcement on Friday that it will write off the debts of 25 of the world's poorest countries.

Details of the debt cancellation are expected on Tuesday.

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See also:
18 Dec 99 |  UK
Campaigners hail UK debt deal
08 Jun 99 |  debt
Q & A: Dropping the debt
16 Jun 99 |  UK Politics
Gordon Brown answers your questions
18 Dec 99 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Malawi's hidden hunger
17 Dec 99 |  debt
The burden of debt

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