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Rural clinics face closures as a private hospital drains funds

4/9/2014, 11:18 a.m.
The health budget of one of Africa’s poorest and least healthy countries could be bankrupted by a privately-run hospital envisioned ...
Winnie Byanyima

Apr. 7 (GIN) – The health budget of one of Africa’s poorest and least healthy countries could be bankrupted by a privately-run hospital envisioned by the World Bank’s private sector arm as the future of African health care.

According to a newly-released report by the development watchdog Oxfam, the running and loan costs of the three year old hospital complex in the capital Maseru have exploded to $67 million a year – or 51% of Lesotho’s health budget.

That’s three times more expensive that the old hospital it replaced, noted the Oxfam report, despite World Bank promises that the new hospital would cost the same.

The Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital is reported by the Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) to be delivering better outcomes in some areas, such as achieving a 41% reduction in the death rate, in children’s deaths from pneumonia by 65% and in stillbirths by 22% compared to the old hospital. But the biggest concern is that as costs escalate for the hospital in the capital, fewer resources will be available for serious and increasing health problems in rural areas where three quarters of the population live.

"Everyone wants Lesotho people to have the very best quality health care,” said Oxfam director Winnie Byanyima. “Oxfam is first to celebrate the people being saved and healed at the new hospital. But the figures don't stack up…"

“The biggest losers of the Lesotho health “Public Private Partnership” are the majority of Basotho people who live below the poverty line in poor rural areas, who have little or no access to decent healthcare and where mortality rates are high and rising,” wrote Anna Mariott, health policy advisor for Oxfam and author of their report “A Dangerous Diversion.”

Marriott called the shortage of health care workers “the most severe challenge facing the health system.” Yet the health worker budget will see below inflation annual increases, while the entire hospital budget will rise 116% in the next 3 years, private investors will receive a 25% return on investment and the World Bank’s IFC will receive a success fee of $723,000.

Lesotho, with spectacular canyons on a highland plateau, is heavily dependent on South Africa which completely surrounds it. It depends on its neighbor as an employer, and as buyer of its main natural resource - water.

The Oxfam report can be found online at www.oxfam.org.uk