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Jubilee Statements

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Science meets debt — IMF loans increase TB mortality

Release Date: 03-Aug-2008

The temperature is heating up in a controversy between the authors of a study in a scientific journal (PloS medicine) and the IMF. The article provides evidence that an IMF loan increases the incidence of TB mortality and that exiting a loan reduces the incidence of TB mortality (and subsequently that taking an IMF loan correlates with a reduction in health spending). This is an extremely damning assessment for the IMF and they have responded in the way that any scientist would have predicted they would — that “correlation does not equal causation”. Although this is true you can say this about nearly any scientific study that is done. There are flaws in nearly every methodology but very few people would argue that science is false.

To truly test an independent variable you need to hold everything else constant and then alter the thing you are looking at, obviously the authors could not do this because they cannot implement IMF loans or keep everything else in an entire nation constant, instead they did the next best thing – they looked at all cases where the IMF had implemented loans themselves. The opinion of an independent local Sydney scientist is that this is gold standard scientific methodology for a study of its kind. In addition, the paper is published in a leading international science journal that is peer-reviewed which eliminates what the IMF labels “phony science”.

There are six particularly damning things for the IMF in the article:

    1. IMF loans preceded the worsening of TB mortality rates (as opposed to loans being a response to increases in TB rates).
    2. As the level of IMF loans increased so did the rate of TB mortality (16.6% increase in the number of tuberculosis deaths).
    3. The most plausible alternate causes of the increase, lower GDP, higher HIV, increased incarceration etc, were statistically controlled for. In other words they were eliminated as causes.
    4. Exiting loans resulted in decreasing rates of TB mortality.
    5. A control country that got an alternate loan did not show an increase in TB mortality rates.
    6. Accepting an IMF loan was correlated with decreases in health spending. The most likely mechanism of the rise in TB rates.

Expect the IMF will do everything they can to discredit this study. It is not surprising as it challenges the institution’s philosophy that economic stability (at the expense of public services) will lead to poverty reduction. The study contradicts the IMF philosophy in every way — their initiatives not only make more people sick, they increase mortality. This study confirms what debt campaigners have been saying for many years: “Cut the strings! End harmful conditions!”