The executive board of the International Monetary Fund Wednesday made good on its promise to cancel about $3 billion of debt it is owed by 19 of the world's poorest countries.

IMF Managing Director Rodrigo de Rato said this is an historic moment that allows recipient countries to reduce poverty.  Debt cancellation has long been championed by anti-poverty advocates. Britain's finance minister Gordon Brown played a leading role in getting the industrial nations with the most votes in the IMF to support debt cancellation. 

The countries receiving the debt relief are mostly in Africa. They include:  Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guyana, Honduras, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

Jonathan Hepburn, a Washington representative for the anti-poverty group Oxfam International, says he is pleased with the result.

"We're talking about a sizeable amount of money here," he said.  "It can be used to build schools, train teachers, to get life-saving drugs into clinics and hospitals. And basically give people the healthy and dignified life they need to lead."

Oxfam and other advocates for the poor say much more needs to be done.  The World Bank, the largest source of development finance for the poor, is still working on its debt cancellation program. Debt relief is typically granted to countries that are pursuing sensible and prudent pro-growth policies.