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The Medical News
14 September 2009

A new report from Oxfam and 62 other non–governmental organizations and health groups finds that international goals aiming to reduce child and maternal mortality rates are “desperately off track,” with four million babies around the world dying annually within 28 days of birth, Agence France–Press reports (9/13).

“Half a million pregnant women die each year because they cannot access medical care and people face abuses such as being imprisoned in clinics because they cannot pay doctors’ fees,” the U.K. Press Association reports. “The report, Your Money Or Your Life, urges governments to offer a lifeline to the poverty–stricken when they have the chance next week [at the U.N. General Assembly] to expand free healthcare in developing countries.”

At the meeting on Sept. 23, world leaders “Are expected to extend free health services in at least seven countries – Burundi, Ghana, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal and Sierra Leone,” according to the Press Association (9/13). An Oxfam release briefly highlights the situation in the seven countries and notes that the U.N. “Initiative could make the difference between life and death.” Barbara Stocking, Oxfam’s chief executive, asked, “How many lives will be needlessly lost before leaders act?” (9/14).

“If free healthcare had been introduced in 2000 when world leaders promised to reduce child mortality by two–thirds, the lives of more than two million children could have been saved by now,” said Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children, adding, “Leaders have the power and the responsibility to make healthcare free. Allowing any more children to die because they can’t afford treatment is inexcusable” (Press Association, 9/13).

At U.N. Meeting, Britain To Support Effort To Eliminate Health Charges In Developing World
Ahead of the release of the report, Britain “Is preparing to lead a push at the U.N. to scrap health charges in countries from Nepal to Sierra Leone,” the Guardian reports. Douglas Alexander, Britain’s international development secretary, “Has negotiated deals with a group of African leaders and the World Bank” to expand or introduce free health care.

“We will specifically be supporting the scrapping of health user fees, enabling people to visit doctors and nurses for free for services ranging from basic check–ups to lifesaving treatment,” Alexander said. Britain will use part of the $10 billion its Prime Minister Gordon Brown has planned to spend in developing countries between 2008 and 2015 to expand free health coverage (Wintour/Watt, 9/11).

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