Oxfam for free education, health services

Kathmandu, November 10:

The Oxfam International has urged South Asian countries and donors to “eliminate user fees in education and health sectors”.

At a time when South Asia is lagging behind in basic human development despite witnessing “unprecedented prosperity”, the need of the hour is for the respective governments and donors to put their acts together, Oxfam said in a regional report.

The report titled ‘Serve the Essentials’ has spelt out the need to “eliminate both direct and indirect costs for all end-users of health and education services and cross-subsidise water for poor people.

Over one-third of children stay out of school in Nepal while only 20 per cent of rural medical posts are filled as compared to 96 per cent in the country’s urban areas, said the report. A former judge and coordinator of the interim constitution drafting committee, Laxman Aryal, today released the report authored by Swati Narayan on behalf of Oxfam International.

Nepal’s wealthiest 20 per cent receive about 40 per cent of the total public subsidy on education, while the poorest people receive less than 12 per cent, the report said.

The report also highlighted positive results of Sri Lanka, which has implemented far-sighted measures for the equitable development of its population.

“School and health clinics with free and universal services have gone a long way to satisfy the human development needs of the population in Sri Lanka,” the report said. Life expectancy in Sri Lanka is 74 years, comparable with the US, Switzerland and Malaysia.

On the health front, 30 to 50 per cent of infant death in the region takes place due to waterborne diseases alone.

The infant mortality rate in the region is between 30 and 50 per cent. Though India’s private hospitals treat 150,000 foreign patients a year, India accounts for one-fifth of the world’s maternal and child deaths. Bangladesh has “dramatically” brought infant mortality rate by two-thirds from 146 to 46 per 1,000 live births between 1970 and 2003.

Sensing the need for a “robust political commitment to the delivery of essential services,” the report has urged the policy makers to support universal programmes rather than targeted ones. It has pointed out the need to “adopt a multi-pronged strategy to fight corruption” and ensure women’s participation in community decision-making and hire more female teachers and heath workers.

The report has emphasised the need to rebuild capacities in public delivery systems.

“Governments should allocate at least 20 per cent of their annual expenditure to basic services.”

It has called on policy makers to promote partnerships with civil society, especially as policy partners and advocates.