As the official West African death toll from the worst Ebola outbreak in recorded history nears 5,000, global concerns about the highly infectious disease continue to mount. Analysts and medical providers, from Liberia to the United States, say that in order to address the crisis, the international community must tackle the real culprit: western-driven economic policies defunding public health systems around the world, particularly in the countries hit hardest by the outbreak.
“The neoliberal economic model assassinated public infrastructure,” said Emira Woods, a Liberia native and social impact director at ThoughtWorks, a technology firm committed to social and economic justice, in an interview with Common Dreams. “A crisis of the proportion we’ve seen since the beginning of the Ebola catastrophe shows this model has failed.”
Gutting of West African Public Health Systems
Since the 1980s, western financial institutions have given loans to third world governments on the condition those states impose austere domestic reforms and roll back public services. This approach is encapsulated in the 1981 World Bank reportAccelerated Development in Sub-Saharan Africa, which presses for “structural adjustments,” including rapid privatization, shrinking of public services and subsidies, and a shift towards export dependency as a solution to “slow economic growth.”
“In West Africa, the resulting neoliberal economic policies sought to promote growth and prosperity through structural adjustment programs (SAPs) that generally involved contraction of government services, renewed export orientation on crops or goods deemed to have a comparative advantage, privatization of parastatal organizations, removal or reduction of many subsidies and tariffs, and currency devaluations,” explain Macalester College Professor William Moseley and colleagues in a paper for the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.