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One jar of paracetamol for 24,000 people - it just doesn't add up

I recently returned from a trip to Malawi, my second visit to the country with Oxfam Ireland. Like citizens everywhere, Malawians have a right to good healthcare. Sadly, this isn’t the case. An unfair tax system means that the nation’s medical facilities are overburdened – and even though Malawi has some of the best health policies in the world, ill-managed public funds means they can’t be put into practice.
 
(Top-Left) Maria Gilasiano with her baby daughter outside Phimbi Health Centre. Photo: Mathias Kafunda. (Top-Right)  Liness Pensulo and her baby daughter. Photo: Mathias Kafunda. (Bottom-Left) Disability Committee member Peter Simoni. Photo: Mathias Kafunda. (Bottom-Right) Clockwise from left: James Afuwa, Medical Assistant for Phimbi Health Centre; Niamh Ní Ruairc of Oxfam Ireland; Bettie Chumbu, DCT Project Officer; Alex Chiphathi , Monitor of Phimbi Radio Listening Club; Asima Stambuli, Ward Councillor for Utale Ward, and Zione Mayaya, DCT Project Coordinator. Photo: Mathias Kafunda 
 
During my trip I visited Phimbi Health Centre in Phimbi, Balaka South. It was originally built to serve a population of 10,000 but now facilitates at least 24,000. When I visited, there was just one container of paracetamol in the drugs cabinet. I was also shown the maternity ward’s four beds – that’s four beds for 200 births every month. And while the staff do their best, they too are struggling due to a lack of resources. A shortage of manpower doesn’t help – the centre should have 60 staff members but poor funding has seen that number cut to 30.
 
Over a small sink in the maternity ward a sign which reads ‘Sambani mmanja pano’ translates as ‘Wash your hands’. But there is no water, no drinkable water, at least. A borehole outside the centre was dug between two septic tanks. As you can imagine, that water isn’t safe to drink. Although the health centre doesn’t use the water, people living in the local community do – leaving them exposed to a whole host of diseases. Those who want clean water have to travel 2km to collect it. That means that women, despite being exhausted and still suffering the pain of childbirth, have to make a 4km-round trip on foot just to clean themselves.
 
Another lifeline pulled from the centre due to a lack of resources is an ambulance. Its vehicle was taken by the district hospital – which too was hit by underfunding – and was never replaced. These days, if the health centre can’t deal with a patient’s condition, the ambulance must be called from the District Hospital of Balaka, a two-and-a-half hour drive away. This has led to women giving birth – sometimes unaided – in the back of an ambulance as they are transferred to hospital.
 
I met one woman who found herself in that situation. Maria Gilasiano gave birth in the back of an ambulance as it made its way to the district hospital. She was being transferred due to complications during labour and ended up delivering her baby herself during the journey. Also in the ambulance at the time was Peter Simoni, a member of the local Disability Committee. Amid the chaos of the birth, Maria and Peter’s bloods got mixed – and while it was not a danger to life, it shows that a lack of resources can pose serious hygiene risks. 
 
Of course, these are risks that Peter knows all too well. There is no wheelchair ramp at the health centre so when he visits, he is forced to crawl on his hands and knees to get into the building – and the toilets, thereby exposing him to potentially dangerous bacteria and germs.
 
Those living in the community also face drugs shortages. Liness Pensulo, another woman I spoke to, couldn’t get malaria tablets for her young son as they weren’t available at the health centre at the time. Instead, she had to travel to a private chemist where she had to pay significantly more. Worse still, she didn’t get proper instructions on how to administer the drugs to her child. The potential consequences of incorrect dosages can be fatal. 
 
Every day, across the world, lives are put at risk due to unfair tax systems. In Malawi, Oxfam Ireland is working with our partner Development Communications Trust (DCT) to help marginalised communities get access to the healthcare they deserve.
 
Niamh Ní Ruairc is Programme Quality Officer with Oxfam Ireland
 

A third of tax dodged in poor countries enough to prevent 8m deaths a year, new Oxfam study reveals

Just a third of the $100bn [approx. €86bn/£78bn] tax that companies dodge in poor countries annually is enough to cover the bill for essential healthcare that could prevent the needless deaths of eight million mothers, babies and children, Oxfam revealed today as it launched a hard-hitting film illustrating the human cost of tax avoidance on the world’s poorest.

Experts estimate that $30bn [approx. €25.8bn/£23bn] is needed each year to pay for basic healthcare such as vaccinations, midwives and diarrhoea treatment that could prevent an average of 7.8m children and 210,000 women dying in 74 countries with large numbers of people living in poverty.

Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland’s Chief Executive, said: “Tax dodgers may not be literally stealing medicines from the pockets of the poorest but they are depriving poor countries of billions that could be invested in healthcare.

“Oxfam works in some of the poorest countries in the world and sees the impacts of tax dodging every day. For instance, we work in Tanzania which has an annual health budget of just €17 per person. Every medicine that is not bought for the lack of government funds due to tax dodging affects thousands of men, women and children across the world.

“While corporate tax avoidance strips developing countries of vital funds needed for hospitals, millions of the world’s poorest people are missing out on basic medical treatment that could save their lives and help them escape hardship. There can be no excuse for delaying tough action against tax dodging.

“As the EU tax transparency process is at a standstill, the Irish and UK governments should lead the way in helping to ensure companies pay their fair share of taxes everywhere they do business.

“Ireland should agree legislation with its EU partners to ensure that multinationals publically report on a country by country basis where they make their profits and pay their taxes.

“Making this information public will give both policy makers and the public the opportunity to understand how a country’s corporate tax system is actually operating, and provide them with the information to review and change it.

Oxfam is urging the UK Chancellor Phillip Hammond to use next month’s Budget to commit to implementing tougher tax laws for British multinationals, including those that operate in developing countries, by the end of 2019. As movement towards an EU tax transparency deal has stalled, it is calling on him to push ahead and build on the leadership some UK companies have already shown.

More than a year since the Government passed legislation to enable the introduction of comprehensive public country by country reporting for UK-based companies and nearly two years since the last Conservative government agreed the case had been made for the change, it is still no closer to being a reality.

Poor countries are twice as dependent as rich countries on corporate tax revenue as a proportion of the money they have available to buy medicines, pay nurses and pipe clean water to people’s homes. There is evidence to show that when poor countries increase their tax revenue – in particular from corporate and income tax – they spend more on healthcare, leading to healthier populations.

Greater tax transparency would make it easier to verify whether companies’ tax bills are in line with their real economic activity in every country where they do business – and to hold them to account if not.

However, until these public reporting requirements are mandatory for all large businesses, widespread tax avoidance will continue to deprive governments rich and poor of revenue needed to provide essential services and tackle poverty.

ENDS

For more information or interviews please contact Phillip Graham on 00 44 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org

 View and/or link through to the film here.

 

Irish Aid’s €2 million pledge to Rohingya crisis welcome - Oxfam Ireland

The decision by Ireland to pledge €2 million in aid to the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh is a welcome development Oxfam Ireland has said. The announcement was made at a special donor conference held in Geneva today.

Over half a million Rohingya refugees have crossed over to Bangladesh from Northern Rakhine State in Myanmar since August, and 2,000 more are arriving every day. This is a large scale and escalating humanitarian crisis.

Oxfam Ireland, CEO Jim Clarken said; “This announcement today by Irish Aid is extremely welcome and will help contribute towards the response to this unfolding humanitarian disaster. The Rohingya refugees are living in terrible conditions and need life-saving assistance now, including clean drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene, essential food and emergency supplies. More than 70% of the newly arrived have no shelter, and only 50% have access to safe drinking water.

Both refugees and communities hosting them need urgent support and Oxfam Ireland has been encouraging donors and governments to act immediately. Existing camps and the ones newly being set up are inadequate to deal with the massive influx resulting in many seeking shelter under open skies, roadsides, and in forest areas with little or no protection.”

Oxfam is responding now and has reached 180,000 people by providing clean drinking water, portable toilets and sanitation facilities, plastic sheets, and other essential supplies. In total, we are planning to reach more than 200,000 people.

To help Oxfam’s response go to https://www.oxfamireland.org/bangladesh

Ends

Daniel English
 
Desk: +353 (0) 1 635 0422
 
Mobile: +353 (0) 86 3544954

 

Race to prevent disease as thousands of Rohingya refugees arrive daily in Bangladesh - Oxfam

Aid workers are in a race against time to stop the rapid spread of disease as thousands of Rohingya people continue to arrive in Bangladesh every day. Oxfam warned that an outbreak of cholera would devastate the camps where hundreds of thousands of people are without safe water, shelter or enough food to eat. 

More than 50,000 newly-arrived Rohingya refugees have been hit by diarrhea, pneumonia, skin disease and acute malnutrition as aid agencies struggle to meet the needs of more than half a million people who have arrived from neighbouring Myanmar since August.

Oxfam engineers are working through torrential rain and floods to install water pumps and tanks, latrines and emergency shelters and have so far provided help to 180,000 people in the over-crowded, ill-equipped camps and ad-hoc settlements of Cox's Bazaar. 

Safe water, food and clean toilets are critical to preventing the outbreak of cholera and many other illnesses that have already affected people living in the camps. Currently, the camps are short of 25,000 toilets, increasing the risk of disease.

Enamul Huque, an Oxfam water and sanitation engineer who has worked for more than 25 years building water systems in the world's biggest refugees camps, including Zaatari, Bidi Bidi and Dadaab, says the crisis is one of the fastest population movements he has ever experienced. 

Huque said: “With more than half a million people having arrived in Bangladesh in less than six weeks, we are working as hard as we can to avert a possible cholera outbreak. Providing people here with lifesaving water and sanitation has been a huge challenge, especially along the Naff peninsula where torrential rains have helped to turn the mud tracks over hilly terrain into clay quagmires.” 

One woman who has recently arrived in the camp told Oxfam about her journey: “I came to Bangladesh about a month ago with my family. I walked for nine days to reach the camps. For three weeks I didn't have clean water or soap to have a shower or even to wash my hands. Yesterday, we got a toilet and a tub, and today we got soap and some food. I am happy, for the first time in weeks I can finally wash my clothes."

The latest shipment of aid dispatched from Oxfam's warehouse in the UK has provided 15 tonnes of water pumps, water tanks and material for construction of emergency latrines to provide water to 35,000 more people. A further two shipments planned will help Oxfam to reach 200,000 more refugees.

The total need for clean water each day is 58 million litres. The existing supply in and around the camps is providing less than a litre of water per person per day – insufficient to meet even their basic needs. 

In addition to providing clean, safe water and toilets, Oxfam and its partners have also been distributing emergency food materials including flattened rice, sugar and high-energy biscuits as well as providing hygiene materials like laundry and toilet soap to over 100,000 people.

Oxfam are urgently appealing for people to donate to their Bangladesh Rohingya Crisis appeal: https://www.oxfamireland.org/bangladesh  

ENDS

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Alice Dawson on 00353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawson@oxfamireland.org

NORTHERN IRELAND: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org

Increase in overseas develop aid welcome but Ireland must do more to meet target – Oxfam Ireland

Commitment on equality and gender proofing and consultation on reforming tax policy also welcomed 

10 October 2017

The announcement in today’s budget an increase of €13 million to Ireland’s Overseas Development Aid (ODA) budget is a positive step but a clear plan is still needed on how Ireland intends to meet the 0.7% target in ODA spending, Oxfam Ireland said today.

Oxfam Ireland also welcomed the progress made in terms of equality and gender proofing as well as the decision to roll-out a public consultation on reforming Ireland’s corporate tax regime.

Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive, said: “Last year, Ireland’s expenditure on its overseas development programme represented just 0.33% of GDP, less than half of the agreed UN target of 0.7%.

“We welcome the announcement in today’s budget of an increase in ODA and we are encouraged by both the Taoiseach’s and Minister Coveney’s stated commitment to reaching the UN target.

We now look forward to Ireland producing a tangible roadmap and timetable detailing how this will be achieved.

Successive opinion polls have shown that the Irish public fully supports meeting the 0.7% target. In addition, achieving our commitment on aid gives Ireland influence in international discussions and shows we keep our promises.”

Oxfam recognised the government's progress in the area of tax reform. “We welcome the announcement of a public consultation process to review Ireland’s tax code and hope this can build on and enhance the findings from the recent report undertaken by Seamus Coffey into addressing corporate tax avoidance which must be addressed for the benefit of both this country and the world’s poorest nations," said Mr Clarken.

“When companies don’t pay their fair share of taxes, it’s the poorest who are hit the hardest, missing out on essential services like healthcare and education. It's important that this process is broad enough to take account of all options.”

On the commitments regarding gender and equality proofing, Mr Clarken continued: "Gender equality should be central to the policy making process and we welcome the steps taken to ensure budgetary choices will reduce inequality and discrimination within our society.”

 

ENDS

Daniel English

Desk: +353 (0) 1 635 0422

Mobile: +353 (0) 86 3544954

Following the announcement of Budget 2018 and this reaction, the Department of Foreign Affairs issued the following: “Mr Coveney corrected a figure presented by Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe in his budget speech. The €13 million figure that he announced is the Irish Aid increase but the ODA figure is actually increasing by €26 million.”

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