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Abstract – Among the many drivers of health inequities, this article focuses on important, yet insufficiently understood, international-level determinants: economic globalization and the organizations that spread market-oriented policies to the developing world. One such organization is the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which provides financial assistance to countries in economic trouble in exchange for policy reforms. Through its ‘structural adjustment programs,’ countries around the world have liberalized and deregulated their economies. We examine how policy reforms prescribed in structural adjustment programs explain variation in health equity between nations—approximated by health system access and neonatal mortality. Our empirical analysis uses an original dataset of IMF-mandated policy reforms for a panel of up to 137 developing countries between 1980 and 2014. We employ regression analysis to evaluate the relationship between these reforms and health equity, taking into account the non-random selection and design of IMF programs. We find that structural adjustment reforms lower health system access and increase neonatal mortality. Additional analyses show that labor market reforms drive these deleterious effects. Overall, our evidence suggests that structural adjustment programs endanger the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals in developing countries.

Highlights

  • Lending programs by the IMF impact on health equity.
  • IMF programs reduce health system access in developing countries.
  • IMF programs increase neonatal mortality in developing countries.
  • Labor market reforms are key drivers behind these adverse consequences.