The financial crisis and global health: the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) policy response

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Abstract

In this article, we interrogate the policy response of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to the global financial crisis, and discuss the likely global health implications, especially in low-income countries. In doing so, we ask if the IMF has meaningfully loosened its fiscal deficit targets in light of the economic challenges posed by the financial crisis and adjusted its macro-economic policy advice to this new reality; or has the rhetoric of counter-cyclical spending failed to translate into additional fiscal space for IMF loan-recipient countries, with negative health consequences? To answer these questions, we assess several post-crisis IMF lending agreements with countries requiring financial assistance, and draw upon recent academic studies and civil society reports examining policy conditionalities still being prescribed by the IMF. We also reference recent studies examining the health impacts of these conditionalities. We demonstrate that while the IMF has been somewhat more flexible in its crisis response than in previous episodes of financial upheaval, there has been no meaningful rethinking in the application of dominant neoliberal macro-economic policies. After showing some flexibility in the initial crisis response, the IMF is pushing for excessive contraction in most low and middle-income countries. We conclude that there remains a wide gap between the rhetoric and the reality of the IMF’s policy and programming advice, with negative implications for global health.

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