As the global search for a cure to COVID-19 intensifies, the nation remains in a state of virtual paralysis in the wake of the imposed lockdown which has now been extended by an additional 14 days. So far, the accuracy of official reports of mounting infection rates currently put at 155 confirmed cases, 58 recoveries and 18 deaths appear to be undermined by declarations by the Health Minister that most reports of infection have been taken from corpses, including those people who may have been suffering from preexisting conditions such as tuberculosis, asthma, the ordinary flu, etc.
It is generally agreed that the 2014 Ebola outbreak severely exposed the weakness of the nation’s health system and hardly had it recovered when the coronavirus, (COVID-19) struck, further exposing the inherent weakness and fragility of the nation’s health system. However, what is not often mentioned or even discussed is the devastating impact that IMF/World Bank imposed Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) has wreaked on the nation’s health system. World Bank/IMF Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) insist on deep cuts in social spending especially on health and education.
Through its “Special Drawing Rights” policy, poor nations are encouraged to credit, to incur debt. Although Liberia has in the recent past benefitted from debt waiver, the country now finds itself indebted to the tune of about a billion dollars and is being encouraged to incur even more debt. It is the interest payments on these debts that keep debtor nations enslaved to IMF/World Bank diktat. Author Susan George in her book (A Fate Worse Than Debt, (New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1990), pp. 143, 187, 235) argues the following:
“Debt is an efficient tool. It ensures access to other peoples’ raw materials and infrastructure on the cheapest possible terms. Dozens of countries must compete for shrinking export markets and can export only a limited range of products because of Northern protectionism and their lack of cash to invest in diversification. Market saturation ensues, reducing exporters’ income to a bare minimum while the North enjoys huge savings. The IMF cannot seem to understand that investing in … [a] healthy, well-fed, literate population … is the most intelligent economic choice a country can make”.
Thus, it can be argued that poor countries (developing nations) are mired in debt primarily due to policies prescribed by the IMF and the World Bank. And Liberia is no different. Former President Sirleaf’s slavish adherence to such policy diktat and her unashamed embrace of the neoliberal ideology has meant increased poverty for most Liberians and growing income inequality with a handful of individuals (2 percent of the population) accounting for more than 80 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
Critics note that despite claims by the IMF and World Bank that its policies will reduce poverty, evidence points to the contrary as poor countries have become even more dependent on rich nations for survival irrespective of the fact that some poor countries such as Liberia are heavily resource endowed. For example, Liberia’s rich gold deposits have attracted the involvement of the International Finance Corporation, an affiliate of the World Bank which once invested in the Kinjor gold mines in Cape Mount County.
And the story is indeed a sad tale with reports of the forced displacement of villagers from their ancestral lands and sacred sites, without just compensation and the pollution of ground water supply due to the use of dangerous chemicals such as cyanide to leach the gold from rocks and soil. And so while the country is broke and is being encourage to incur more debt through IMF “Special Drawing Rights”, its rich gold deposits are being exploited by greedy foreign corporate interests including World Bank affiliate, International Finance Corporation (IFC).
But the problem is many African leaders slavishly embrace the neoliberal agenda spearheaded by the IMF/World Bank and allied institutions known as the “Washington Consensus” which endorse the imposition of Structural Adjustment Policies to ensure debt repayment and restructuring of the economy in ways that undermine the ability of the state to play a lead role in the development of its people, the consequences of which have meant lower spending on health and education and consequently lower standards of living for the people.
For example, IMF/World Bank policies of restructuring insist that a developing nation such as ours should export more of our primary commodities while opening up the economy to a flood of cheap imports mainly from the West. We export raw rubber but import rubber products. We export timber but import wooden furniture, etc. And this is precisely what contributes to deepening poverty and increased dependency.
The outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic in addition to exposing the weakness of our health system has also exposed the weakness and dangers of decentralization, a main plank of neoliberalism, in nowhere else but in what is probably the most highly decentralized country in the world, the United States of America, judging by its poor, weak and virtually uncoordinated response to a major health crisis.
Just what lessons can we, our national leadership learn from this remains to be seen. Local Health authorities, in the face of a critical shortage of doctors and allied medical staff as well as the general lack of drugs and medicines in most public hospitals and clinics, seem helpless and overwhelmed. US President Trump for example has suggest the use of disinfectants to inject infected individuals. He has even advocated for and urged the use of hydroxychloroquine.
Now the question is, just what we can do for ourselves, relying on our rich biodiversity of flora and fauna to source natural herbal based anti-COVID-19 medications? Already reports from quarantine centers around Monrovia report increasing use by patients of traditional remedies to help themselves and the results are showing in the recovery rates bearing on mind that these quarantine centers are grossly understaffed, underequipped and very poorly supplied and stocked with items such as ventilators and Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to aid treatment and recovery.
Clearly, IMF/World Bank SAPs have failed us, have taken our health and education systems and economy into a downward spiral. How do we get out of it or, are we going to allow ourselves to be sucked in deeper?