FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Scourge of the IMF

by ROBERT WEISSMAN

Tuberculosis, a treatable disease, kills 1.7 million people a year worldwide.

TB incidence, according to the World Health Organization seems to be correlated to broad social factors, like access to clean water and sanitation, HIV incidence and national health expenditures.

A just published study in the journal PLoS (Public Library of Science) Medicine investigates the role of different possible explanatory factor: the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The researchers’ study focuses on the period 1991 to 2003 for the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, a region for which there is robust data.

The results: The researchers concluded "that IMF economic reform programs are strongly associated with rises in tuberculosis mortality rates in post-communist Eastern European and FSU [former Soviet Union] countries, even after correcting for potential selection bias, tuberculosis surveillance infrastructure, levels of economic development, urbanization, and HIV/AIDS."

"We estimated an increase in tuberculosis mortality rates when countries participate in an IMF program, which was much greater than the reduction that would have been expected had the countries not participated in an IMF program. On the other hand, we estimated a decrease in tuberculosis mortality rates associated with exiting an IMF program."

In other words: When countries entered IMF programs, TB rates went up. When the programs ended and countries escaped from IMF influence, TB rates went down.

OK, but the region was in chaos after the fall of the Soviet Union. Economies crashed and per capita income plummeted. Crime rose, incarceration rates jumped, HIV spread. Aren’t these the real factors behind rising TB rates?

Explains Sanjay Basu of Yale University, one of the study authors: "First of all, not all of these countries in this region were dependent on the former Soviet Union. Many of them actually had an increase in GDP after the fall of the former Soviet Union. Several were not part of the trading bloc. And in some of the key countries where TB rates rose, we actually saw an increase in economic growth. So economic downturns could not explain, as the WHO itself has stated, the trends of tuberculosis in that regions. Something else was going on."

"The reason we use such heavy statistics is precisely to factor in these other issues — incarceration, HIV, changes to the economy, changes to the healthcare infrastructure. We found a statistically independent effect of the IMF. That’s not to say that the IMF was the only cause of TB in this region. The economy, incarceration, HIV — these are all very important, but those factors could not fully explain TB in the region."

The PLoS study found that participating in an IMF program correlated with increases in tuberculosis incidence of 13.9 percent and an increase in TB mortality rates of 16.6 percent. Basu says that, if the study results are valid, they suggest "we would have averted tens of thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of new cases" if countries in the region had never entered IMF programs.

The theory of the study authors is that IMF programs drive down healthcare spending, and this reduced investment in healthcare explains the rise in TB incidence and death. Basu emphasizes, correctly, that the issue is not so much the IMF directing countries to spend less on health. Rather, it imposes a set of policy constraints — including overall limits on government spending, and needlessly low inflation targets — that inevitably result in countries spending less on health.

There are always variations between regions, but there is nothing about the PLoS researchers’ story that suggests things are any different in Africa, the region where the IMF now exerts the most influence.

Not surprisingly, the IMF has rejected the PLoS findings. "Severe methodological shortcomings limit the scope of these results and prevent any causal interpretation," asserts an IMF response that is much more subdued than comments from spokespeople. "The fundamental problem is that this study does not take properly into account that countries implement IMF-supported reforms in times of economic distress."

Says the IMF response: "The authors do not take into account that the economic and social instability following the collapse of Soviet Union may have had a direct impact on TB incidence in the 21 transition economies considered in the study."

The problem with this line of argument is that it is not true. The authors did take the economic and social instability into account.

Can anything be done about IMF policies with such harmful impacts?

Yes. The IMF is a human creation, not a force of nature.

The United States Congress will next year have a unique opportunity to influence IMF policy. The IMF needs approval from the Congress to go ahead with plans to sell some of the gold it controls. This gold would be used to fund the IMF’s administrative costs — a new income stream the IMF desperately needs. Interest payments from middle-income countries previously paid for administrative costs, but these countries have paid back their loans in order to escape from IMF influence.

As the U.S. Congress looks to approve gold sales to finance the IMF, it must insist that the IMF first end the mandates that effectively restrict countries’ health spending, and force borrowing countries to implement a discredited market fundamentalist policy agenda.

ROBERT WEISSMAN is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, and director of Essential Action.

 

 


February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
Peter White
Meeting John Ross
Colin Todhunter
Organic Agriculture, Capitalism and the Parallel World of the Pro-GMO Evangelist
Ralph Nader
They’re Just Not Answering!
Cesar Chelala
Beware of the Harm on Eyes Digital Devices Can Cause
Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
Eoin Higgins
Please Clap: the Jeb Bush Campaign Pre-Mortem
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Invisible Epidemic: Radiation and Rising Rates of Thyroid Cancer
Andre Vltchek
Europe is Built on Corpses and Plunder
Jack Smith
Obama Readies to Fight in Libya, Again
Robert Fantina
As Goes Iowa, So Goes the Nation?
Dean Baker
Market Turmoil, the Fed and the Presidential Election
John Grant
Israel Moves to Check Its Artists
John Wight
Who Was Cecil Rhodes?
David Macaray
Will There Ever Be Anyone Better Than Bernie Sanders?
Christopher Brauchli
Suffer Little Children: From Brazil to Flint
JP Sottile
Did Fox News Help the GOP Establishment Get Its Groove Back?
Binoy Kampmark
Legalizing Cruelties: the Australian High Court and Indefinite Offshore Detention
John Feffer
Wrestling With Iran
Rob Prince – Ibrahim Kazerooni
Syria Again
Louisa Willcox
Park Service Finally Stands Up for Grizzlies and Us
Farzana Versey
Of Beyoncé, Trudeau and Culture Predators
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail