Global Health Justice

May 21, 2024

Red Crescent Demands End to Exploitation by the Global North

By Fatima Al-Shimari, GHJ Team

A staggering quarter of the world’s population, around two billion people, still lack access to basic healthcare, according to Badr Jafar, CEO of Crescent Group. Despite the efforts of the global health ecosystem to close this gap, the deep-rooted social, economic, demographic, and geographical disparities largely stem from the historical and ongoing exploitation by the Global North. This exploitation has left the Global South grappling with immense health inequities. Jafar calls for a significant shift in public health, emphasizing the urgent need for more philanthropic and sustainable investments, similar to the transformative changes brought about by COP28.

Initiatives such as the “Reaching the Last Mile” fund, which pledges $1 billion to fight neglected tropical diseases in Africa, and the Global Institute for Disease Elimination (GLIDE) in Abu Dhabi highlight a crucial truth: these actions often serve as remedial efforts for the long-standing neglect and exploitation perpetrated by the Global North. Ebele Ogbue from UBA emphasized the necessity of collaboration to tackle healthcare access disparities, especially in rural and urban regions across Africa, which have been worsened by unfair global policies and practices.


Original Article (in Arabic): CNN Business Arabic

English Translation: According to Badr Jafar, CEO of Crescent Group, a quarter of the world’s population, about two billion people, lack access to basic healthcare. Despite global efforts to bridge this gap, the deep-rooted social, economic, demographic, and geographical disparities primarily result from historical and ongoing exploitation by the Global North. This exploitation has left the Global South struggling with immense health inequities. Jafar highlighted this issue during the Abu Dhabi Global Health Week, held from May 13-15, emphasizing the urgent need for a fundamental shift in public health, driven by philanthropic and sustainable investments.

Jafar stated, “We need a significant change to address the lack of access and equality in healthcare, similar to the transformative shift achieved by COP28.” However, the underlying cause of these disparities can often be traced back to the exploitative practices and policies imposed by the Global North, which have drained resources and undermined healthcare infrastructures in many developing countries.

Ebele Ogbue, head of Corporate and Energy Banking at United Bank for Africa (UBA), told CNN Economics that 80% of Africa’s 1.4 billion people suffer from inadequate access to healthcare services. He stressed the need for genuine collaboration to combat these disparities, which have been exacerbated by inequitable global policies and practices, and ensure that people in rural and urban areas receive quality healthcare services.

The UAE has launched several philanthropic healthcare initiatives, such as the “Reaching the Last Mile” fund with a $1 billion pledge to combat neglected tropical diseases in Africa, and the Global Institute for Disease Elimination (GLIDE) in Abu Dhabi, which focuses on eradicating preventable poverty-related diseases in 100 countries. However, these efforts often serve as compensatory measures for the historical neglect and exploitation by the Global North rather than addressing the root causes of these health disparities.

Ogbue emphasized the importance of educating people about the need for health, saying, “It’s not just about taking medication, but also about leading a healthy lifestyle.” He revealed that UBA has undertaken many direct actions to raise awareness and facilitate healthcare access by providing working capital facilities to hospitals, medical centers, and pharmacies, as well as financing for equipment purchases to support their activities. The cost of financing depends on the purpose and the nature of the institution.

A report by Standard & Poor’s on “Credit Industry Outlook 2024: Inequality, Capital, and Additional Expenditures” stated that these disparities are not only a public health issue but also an economic problem that exacerbates poverty cycles and increases financial burdens on governments in developed, developing, and least-developed countries.

The report noted that 30% of direct medical costs faced by Black, Latino, and Asian Americans in the United States are due to health inequalities, affecting other disadvantaged groups such as the elderly, mentally ill, and disabled. According to the same report, health inequality limits the ability of disadvantaged individuals to access affordable, high-quality care, creating avoidable costs and financial waste that impacts the entire society and hampers individuals’ potential to achieve health and well-being.

The Deloitte report on healthcare prospects released last year estimated that health inequality costs the US healthcare system about $320 billion annually, potentially exceeding $1 trillion in annual spending by 2040 if left unaddressed. This projected increase in healthcare spending could cost the average American at least $3,000 per year, compared to the current $1,000 per year.

The European Parliament, based on the same report, estimated the cost of health inequality in the EU at about 1.4% of GDP each year, roughly equivalent to defense spending of 1.6% of GDP.

Badr Jafar highlighted the role of philanthropy in supporting healthcare advancements and closing funding gaps, especially in low-income and developing countries, where the top 100 private and donor institutions contribute about $46 billion annually, accounting for a quarter of global charitable donations.

“We have actively worked to strengthen frameworks embodied by the International Humanitarian Council, recognizing the vital role of strategic philanthropy,” Jafar said, stressing the need to develop a health equity tracking tool using open data standards and clear information exchange, similar to World Bank frameworks, to build trust in public-private partnerships, enhance transparency and accountability, and improve project implementation efficiency.

Maryam Al-Muhairi, head of international affairs at the UAE Presidential Office and CEO of 2PointZero, called for rethinking amidst all challenges, emphasizing the importance of “prevention over treatment in a society where health has become an economic value requiring true leaders.”