The covid 19 pandemic has demonstrated that the neoliberal system that leads the world is detrimental to health care systems, public services, and bad for people, especially for the poor and third world populations. We should remind the globalized neoliberal leadership that they asserted not long ago that austerity measures were indispensable to save the economy of an indebted country. There was no alternative. Austerity policies were touted as the only way to save the population of a country. Now, those same countries have their underfunded public services and health care systems unable to guarantee proper safeguards to the people. This scenario exposes that the distribution of poverty is based on exploitation that is gendered, racialized, and divided by class.
The abolition of the public debt in third world countries has been discussed in supranational assemblies such as the EU, but what exactly is public debt? In the 1980s, “development” became synonymous with Structural Adjustment Programs, (SAPs), which forced developing countries to incur enormous public debt. The purpose of building public debt is to indebt the entire society, begetting a system of inequality. Today those countries subjected to SAPs are facing the coronavirus pandemic without health resources as they have been whittled away to satisfy repayment of the debt.
OXFAM’s recent press release reveals two faces of the same coin. One pertains to public debt management of the third world countries and the other one to the budget priorities imposed on these countries. According to Oxfam, 64 countries of the Global South have to spend more on repayment of their “public debt” than health care. For instance, Ghana spends 11 times more on its public debt than on its health care system. Although this reality is not new, it has gone mostly unnoticed and not been considered as a risk for the population. Oxfam highlights that 500 million people in the Global South could face dire poverty, according to UN researchers. Already, 265 million people are facing acute hunger, according to the WHO, showing that “the pandemics are also hunger.”
Meanwhile, since January, the IMF’s wealth has grown by $19.4 billion, while the third world public debt is about $12.4 billion. The IMF and the World Bank promoted Structural Adjustment Programs, SAPs. Will it be time for the IMF to repay its ethical debt to these countries, now that these countries are facing pandemics without protection of any kind? The people in these countries, far from being protected by development, have lost their protection, because the governments of indebted countries were forced to serve the market, not the people. The great ideal of human rights has too often been a place mediated through the neoliberal market-take-all ideology.
The overwhelming influence of the US economic power has influenced the way health care systems around the world work, and the US health care system is the worst system among the OECD countries. It is a for-profit system that has no interest in providing care for the sake of care. In this system, money should not be spent on health care or public services but only on a guaranteed return on investment, removing the idea that health is a basic necessity to guarantee human rights. This approach to health care has dominated the world’s health systems for decades, infecting universal health care system like a contagious virus.
Rebecca Solnit recently asserted: “Coronavirus does discriminate because that’s what humans do.” But who are the ones who discriminate? We certainly don’t feel that we do, and still, we do. We do by not paying attention to systems that promote discrimination while asserting that they do the opposite. We need to organize to persistently denounce, expose, and fight what the globalized neoliberal economy has created. The coronavirus has shown that the prescriptions made by the neoliberal even liberal economists, the gurus of modern power, kill. They warped any political debate to install a mechanism of inequality keeping the entire society eternally indebted. Politics of austerity have spread in every possible niche, including in industrialized countries, affecting all public services. Every nation has seen the number of their hospital beds melting away. France, which had the best health care system in 2000, has seen its health care stripped;, for example the number of beds for 1000 people went from 11 in 1980 to 6 in 2019. In the US that number went from 7.9 in 1970 to 2.8 in 2016. By the same token, funding allocated to fundamental research on virology was curtailed. When the coronavirus spread, the absence of adequate health care resources and research transformed the contamination into a health crisis. This situation is cruel and absurd, and people are starting to talk about it.
Women, especially women in the Global South, are the most vulnerable to reductions of public services. About 2/3 of their work is unpaid work. This unpaid work represented about 13% of total GDP in 2018. This discrimination is systemic and profoundly anchored in the patriarchal system. Their unpaid work accounted for 13% of global GDP in 2018. It is particularly important in third world countries.
The priorities have not been on health, clean water, education, local agriculture. They have not been on building a more just society between the North and the South, between the wealthy and the poor. Being poor is determined by gender, race and class. This health crisis has demonstrated that neoliberal leadership had no interest in the protection of the population. In this time of pandemic, the populations who are paying a heavy price are the most vulnerable of the society, whether they live in developing countries, refugee camps, prisons and jails in the United States, or detention centers. This pandemic also offers a window to build kindness and expand global solidarity at the grassroots level. Debunking the official mythical discourse through a transnational feminist lens has to occur to transform the system. The priorities are clear, treating life with respect is the basic of global well-being. This means remove the financial burden on the poor as the wealthy have built hell. Support debt abolition!
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(Photos Credit 1: Sara Bakhshi – Credit 2: Ian Espinosa)