IMF policies blamed for Ebola spread in West Africa

image source, AP
image captionSierra Leone, along with Liberia and Guinea, have poor health facilities

Spending cuts imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) may have contributed to the rapid spread of Ebola in three West African states, UK-based researchers say.

It had led to "under-funded, insufficiently staffed, and poorly prepared health systems" in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, they said.

The IMF denied the allegation.

The deadliest Ebola outbreak ever has so far killed more than 7,300 people, mostly in the three states.

"A major reason why the Ebola outbreak spread so rapidly was the weakness of healthcare systems in the region, and it would be unfortunate if underlying causes were overlooked," said Cambridge University sociologist and lead study author Alexander Kentikelenis.

image source, AP
image captionIMF polices made it difficult to employ health staff, researchers say
image source, AFP
image captionThe three West African states have relied heavily on aid agencies to help fight the outbreak

Policies requiring that government spending be slashed were "extremely strict, absorbing funds that could be directed to meeting pressing health challenges", the study said.

Mr Kentikelenis told the BBC's Newsday programme that caps on wage bills meant countries could not hire heath staff and pay them adequately.

The IMF's emphasis on decentralised healthcare systems had also made it difficult to mobilise a co-ordinated response to health emergencies such as the Ebola outbreak, he said.

'Completely untrue'

Study co-author Lawrence King said Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone had met the IMF's directives in 2013, just before the Ebola outbreak.

However, they all "failed to raise their social spending despite pressing health needs", he said.

The IMF said in a statement that health spending in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone had, in fact, increased in the 2010-2013 period.

It was "completely untrue" that IMF policies had caused Ebola to spread, a spokesman is quoted by AFP news agency as saying

"Such claims are based on a misunderstanding, and, in some cases, a misrepresentation, of IMF policies," he said.

The three poor West African states are heavily dependent on donor funding.

Conflict in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s also contributed to the destruction of their health systems.

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