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Lack of Investment in Health and Education

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Lack of investment in health and education condemns millions of children to grinding poverty

Embargoed until 00.01 am, 17 October 2002

The rights of millions of children to decent basic healthcare and education are being stolen by the failure of international donors to invest in public services - says Save the Children in a new report released today to mark UN International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

The report Paying the Price paints a grim picture of the impact of under investment in basic services in a number of developing countries. Despite the many promises made at countless world summits, for millions of children and their families basic services are non-existent or unaffordable.

Some countries are just too poor to provide adequate services without international aid. Despite Ethiopia spending at least 20 per cent of its national budget on health and education, this amounts to just US$1.50 per person on health. Even if the Ethiopian government spent its entire budget on healthcare, it would still not meet the World Health Organisation target of US$30-40 per year.

To reverse this trend, Save the Children is calling for the UK government to lead a massive injection of funds into basic health and education for developing countries. Currently, only 4.8 per cent of UK government aid goes to basic healthcare and just 2.6 per cent to education. Other donors are even less generous: the World Bank allocates 1.9 per cent to basic health and the European Union only 2.3 per cent. Unless these amounts increase substantially, millions of children will be denied their basic right to healthcare and education and will not escape the cycle of poverty.

Fiona Weir, Director of Policy and Communications at Save the Children, said, "This government has made an important commitment to increase their level of overseas aid but this is not just about the amount of aid. The share of aid going to the things that really matter for children - their health and education - is scandalously low." She continued, "Donors do have a choice about how they spend their money. The UK government must lead the way and prove their commitment to the future of millions of children around the world. It's time to deliver real change, not short change, for children."

The charity also warned that aid conditions must not be used to push governments into privatising their health and education services. Increasingly, national governments are being encouraged by donors and lending agencies like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to claw back the cost of services - either through user fees or through privatisation of services. The impact of these policies could be devastating for the poorest children and their families.

"Donors must not use aid conditions to push developing countries into privatising their basic services,' Regina Keith, Health Policy advisor at Save the Children, said, "Many poorer families simply cannot afford to pay even minimal fees for services. Introducing fees effectively excludes poor children from access to even the most basic healthcare and forces others deeper into the poverty trap."

In Ethiopia the majority of children and their families are too poor to be sick. New figures show that the introduction of user fees and special pharmacies in Ethiopia has totally excluded 51 per cent of the population from healthcare. Of the 49 per cent who can access healthcare, two-thirds are forced to become further entrenched in poverty to do so - risking everything by selling their land and assets, going without food for days or sending their children to work in order to afford essential medicines.

Sixteen-year-old Mohammed told Save the Children that he would have to work five days a week for five weeks to be able to afford the essential medicines that his sick baby brother and mother need. Equating this to the British minimum wage, this is the equivalent of paying £720 for a simple prescription in the UK and, more worryingly, paying this for a prescription for a child (something which is free in the UK). Save the Children believes this is unacceptable.

On UN International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Save the Children calls for:

Donor governments and international financial institutions to make long-term commitments to increase investment in health and education services until they are available to all children in developing countries

All donors who haven't already done so, including the UK, to announce timetables for increasing their overall aid budgets to reach their agreed target - 0.7 per cent of GNP with at least 0.1 per cent allocated to basic healthcare

The UK government to boost its aid budget by US$500 million for basic education and reach US$1 billion for health by 2006

Aid budgets not to be diverted from public health services to the development of private sector services, and the privatisation of basic services not to be promoted as a condition of aid or lending packages.

ENDS

For more information, print quality photographs from Ethiopia or interviews with spokespeople, please contact: Save the Children's Press Office: 020 7716 2280

07831 650409 (out of hours)

Email: [email protected]

Notes to editors

October 17 is UN International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

Beat Poverty is Save the Children's campaign to raise awareness of and fight child poverty. All over the world poverty is stealing children's rights to a safe, healthy and fulfilling childhood. It doesn't have to be this way. Save the Children believes poverty can be beaten. The Beat Poverty campaign is calling for increased spending on health and education for every child, more and better overseas aid, fairer global trade rules and making children the top priority in actions on poverty. Join forces with us to Beat Poverty by visiting the website at www.beatpoverty.org.

Save the Children is the UK's leading international children's charity working to make a reality of every child's right to a happy, healthy and secure childhood. The charity has over 80 years' experience in working with the poorest children around the world, and in the UK.

Visit our webpages on health.

To join the Beat Poverty Campaign call 020 7701 8916.

From Too Poor to be Sick, Save the Children, October 2002

Equated on the lower level of minimum wage (£3.60 per hour) for a 5-day week and an average 8-hour day.

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