Funded by developed countries, the World Bank claims its mission is to reduce
poverty, but that message "is far from the truth," says Vineeta Gupta, an
Indian doctor and human-rights activist, who blames the bank for denying
health-care to India's poorest citizens.
As part of a US tour, Gupta spoke with 20 union and anti-globalization
activists Sunday, September 16, at the Providence offices of the Hotel and
Restaurant Employees and Bartenders Union, Local 217, and District 1199 New
England Health Care Employees. The focus of her discussion was a $106 million
World Bank loan that was used in 1995 to privatize health-care in the Indian
state of Punjab.
Rupta says doctors like herself provided free care to the poor before
privatization, but the practice has been barred by World Bank loan conditions
and user fees have been established instead. In theory, the poorest Indians are
exempt from user fees. But to avoid charges, they must have a government issued
"yellow card" which entitles them to other welfare benefits. In her pamphlet,
"World Bank Funded Health Care: A Death Certificate for Poor," Gupta reports
that only 44 people in a Punjabi city of 270,000 had yellow cards. Following
instructions from administrators, government workers haven't issued a new
yellow card since 1996, she says.
Even without this barrier, Gupta notes, poor people must pay half an average
day's wages, provide a home address, and comply with frequently changing
renewal requirements to receive a yellow card. Those conditions effectively
block access to care for thousands of homeless and destitute Punjabis, she
notes. Denied free health care, poor Punjabis must go into debt when sick, give
birth on the side of the road, or pay a few rupees to quacks who carry
hypodermic needles in their turbans.
Rallying opposition to the privatized system has been difficult, however,
Gupta says, because government corruption is widespread. "You can't get through
x-ray or emergency services without a bribe," she explains. Although World Bank
loans are causing more corruption, Gupta says, most people support
privatization in the hope that bribery will stop. She adds that the poorest
Indians have neither the time nor the resources to organize for universal
The meeting began when Andrew Cortes, a member of the Carpenters Union and the
Rhode Island Green Party, blamed "corporate globalization" for causing the
attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and he called for the peace
and anti-globalization movements to work together to stop military action in
Afghanistan. Gupta also opposes bombing Afghanistan.
Also criticizing the privatization of government services was Molly Dhlamini,
a South African student activist. The corporations that have won contracts to
provide cooking and cleaning services at universities in her country, she says,
have reduced wages and benefits.
Issue Date: September 21 - 27, 2001