How to Confront the Coronavirus Catastrophe: New Oxfam Briefing

Some excerpts from today’s briefing:

Oxfam is proposing two things that the G20 and other leaders can do simultaneously. The first is to develop a Global Public Health Plan and Emergency Response to tackle the disease head on – preventing and delaying its spread, saving lives now and into the future. The second is to create an economic rescue plan to pay for the huge increase in public health and to help ordinary people cope with the huge economic costs precipitated by this virus. This first media brief focuses on the Global Public Health Plan and Emergency Response.

According to the WHO, at least half the world’s 7.6 billion people cannot access the essential healthcare they need even in normal times. In developing countries, the disease burden is already far higher than in rich nations. Each day nearly 4,000 people die from tuberculosis; a further 1,500 are killed by malaria, most of them children.

These numbers are at risk of rising dramatically as the pandemic competes for stretched healthcare resources. Across low-income countries, the average health spending was only US$41 per person in 2017, compared with US$2,937 in high-income countries – more than 70 times greater. Weak, underfunded and unequal health systems in developing countries are already completely unable to cope.

A coordinated and massive investment in public health is desperately needed now if we are to stop the spread of this deadly virus and prevent millions of deaths.

Enlightened multilateralism, long sacrificed to narrow nationalism, must be put back at centre stage to build an emergency and long-term health response unseen in our history. The WHO should work with the G20 and other national governments to rapidly agree and fund a Global Public Health Plan and Emergency Response.

It would cost approximately $159bn to double the public health spending of all of world’s 85 poorest countries. These countries are home to 3.7 billion people. This is less than 8% of the latest US fiscal stimulus alone.

Rich countries can help developing countries in two key ways: by giving them aid and by reducing their existing costs and debts. A key start will be immediately to fully fund the $2bn UN Humanitarian Response Plan, and plan for a massive scaling up of global humanitarian efforts as the virus starts to impact the poorest countries.

Covid cases in Africa, as of 29 March. Credit: BBC

This must include steps to provide clean water, public health education, and cash grants. Much of this funding needs to go directly to local NGOs, and special care must be taken to address the gendered impacts this crisis will have. Donors and multilateral institutions should also rapidly scale up other aid, building on initial moves from the World Bank, IMF and others, and especially provide support to developing country health budgets.

Second, the G20 and all bilateral and multilateral donors need to agree to an immediate moratorium on debt interest payments for poor country governments without conditions. This has already been called for by the World Bank and the IMF in an unprecedented move. In Africa alone, this act would free up an estimated $44bn this year to help finance their public health response.

So far, the outbreak has not spread extensively in developing countries, many of which have massive urban slum populations; but this is changing fast and is a huge public health challenge.

Immediate action is needed to shore up public health systems now and for the long-term, making them fair and accessible to all and saving millions of lives:

1. Prevention. Huge investments must be made in prevention: public health promotion and communication, community engagement and education, and in access to water and sanitation, especially handwashing, as well as free testing for all.

2. Ten million health workers. Ten million new paid and protected health workers should be recruited to help slow the spread of this virus and to be there to treat and care for those affected.

3. Free healthcare. Governments must remove all financial barriers to people accessing healthcare and deliver free testing and treatment to all who need it.

4. Private must work for public. Governments must requisition or find other means to utilize all private healthcare facilities to increase capacity to treat and care for infected patients and to meet ongoing essential health needs.

5. Vaccine and treatment for all. Global agreement must be reached that vaccines and treatments, when discovered, will be a global public good, available to all who need it for free and that rich countries will provide enough funding to make it available rapidly to the whole of humanity.

The full briefing is here.

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5 Responses to “How to Confront the Coronavirus Catastrophe: New Oxfam Briefing”
  1. The issue of civic space isn’t highlighted here (buried in the document noting learnings from the Ebola crisis), but it is hugely important. The types of measures being imposed will completely hamper civil society’s ability to do its job. The international community should be coordinating its response on this issue too, highlighting appropriate measures to balance the need to protect health and life with fundamental freedoms.

    • Duncan Green

      Good point Deborah, a lot of states are seizing new areas of control and expanding their surveillance powers over citizens. Will that process reverse once the crisis is over? Depends on the politics, IMO, including citizen action to regain their freedoms

  2. Nigel Taylor

    Mental health is not mentioned as an important aspect of ‘health’ although COVID-19 and lock-down type responses will significantly contribute to social determinants of poor mental health. This will go beyond the traumatic effects of illness and death amongst loved ones to, for example, the devastating impact on fragile livelihoods, crowded living conditions, and increased IPV. And those with pre-existing illnesses will be especially affected because of challenges in accessing medication that needs to be taken regularly and those (wrongly) in institutions will most likely be neglected. Importantly, poor mental health such as anxiety and depression leads to poor uptake of public health responses, completing a vicious circle.

    There are simple interventions to help that could be integrated into general public health responses:
    with exploration of actual situations and adaptation coming…

  3. Sandra Martinsone

    Regarding 159$ billion for doubling public health spending in the 85 poorest countries, how this could be funded?
    Total net ODA in 2018 including non-OECD and private donors was 201$ billion of which only 12$ billion was spent on health. And, we all know that not all of this 12$ billion have been invested in strengthening public health systems but rather private health infrastructure, which is mostly enjoyed by the wealthier segments of society.
    Is there also a role for global civil society to change its narrative on what has to be prioritized?