Over 1,000 health professionals call for G20 to cancel developing countries’ debt

Published: 12th November 2020

Over 1,000 health professionals from 66 countries have signed a letter urging the G20 to cancel the debt of developing countries, ahead of tomorrow’s extraordinary G20 Finance Ministers meeting.

The letter, organized by Oxfam, urges the G20 to cancel the debt so that countries can devote funds to responding to COVID-19 and invest in more resilient healthcare systems. Many governments are spending more on repaying debt than on health and the current G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) only postpones a fraction of debt payments —including interest— until mid-2021. 

Signatories to the letter include Dr Nisreen Alwan, Associate Professor for Public Health in Medicine at the University of Southampton in the UK, Dr Stefano Vella, Director of the National Centre for Global Health in Italy, Dr Christophe Prudhomme, Emergency Physician at Samu 93 Hospital and spokesperson for the Association of Emergency Physicians of France, Professor Trisha Greenhalgh, Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford in the UK, and Dr Francis Mupeta, Head of the Infectious Diseases Unit at the University Teaching Hospital in Zambia.

Chema Vera, Oxfam International’s Interim Executive Director, said: 

“At a time when hospitals and healthcare systems are buckling under the strain of COVID-19, it is perverse that poor countries are having to pay $3 billion per month in debt repayments to rich banks, investment funds or the World Bank, while their populations fall further into poverty and destitution. 

“The suspension initiative barely scratches the surface of what is needed. Private creditors are not included and continue to collect debt payments from the poorest countries. Intensive care units need equipping, doctors and nurses hiring —debt needs to be cancelled, postponing it is futile.” 

Even before COVID-19 hit, there was a shortage of 17.4 million health workers worldwide, mostly in low- and lower-middle income countries. Oxfam analysis has shown that debt cancellation for this year alone could provide three years’ worth of salaries for:

  • The 14,000 extra nurses needed in Malawi, currently with only a quarter of the nurses it requires. 
  • The 24,500 extra doctors needed in Ghana, currently with less than one fifth of the doctors it requires.
  • The 47,468 extra nurses needed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, currently with less than half the number of nurses it requires.

There is currently no global common agreement for countries struggling with debt repayments, with countries left to fend for themselves individually against their creditors. At the G20 Finance Ministers meeting tomorrow, a common framework for debt restructuring will be discussed, but Oxfam says that this will be meaningless unless it is binding and includes all bilateral, multilateral and private creditors on equal terms. 

“We urge the G20 to go further and provide permanent debt relief, not continue with this temporary fix that does little but delay the problem. This unprecedented global health emergency demands an unprecedented, radical response from the world’s richest countries to truly support the world’s poorest people,” added Vera. 

Notes to editors

The letter, also supported by over 19,000 people, can be found here

In October, G20 Finance Ministers agreed to extend the Debt Service Suspension Initiative from the end of 2020 to June 2021, with a planned review in April for a possible extension until the end of 2021.

A shortage of 17.4 million health workers worldwide, mostly in low- and lower-middle income countries is from the World Health Organization Primary Health Care on the Road to Universal Health Coverage: 2019 Monitoring Report

The methodology for the debt cancellation statistics is available on request.

Contact information

Annie Thériault in Canada | annie.theriault@oxfam.org | +51 936 307 990 
Anna Ratcliff in the UK | anna.ratcliff@oxfam.org | +44 779 699 3288

For updates, please follow @Oxfam

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