The Threat To Global Health Following U.K. Foreign Aid Cuts

The U.K. government announced last year that it would reduce the foreign aid budget by 30%. However, recent reports by Open Democracy and Global Citizen reveal the extent and impact such a loss in funding will have on the most vulnerable people and communities across the globe. This comes at a time when inequalities are only being exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Certain aid projects have been subjected to a higher reduction in funding. This includes AIDS treatment and prevention, women’s health, sanitation, and neglected tropical diseases; all of which have lost over half of their funding. U.K. funding to UNAIDS has been reduced by a drastic 83%, from £15 million to £2.3 million. “Disinvesting in public health only stores up problems for the future,” stated Executive Director at Frontline AIDS, Christine Stegling.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) faces an 85% reduction in their funding. The organization promotes access to sexual and reproductive health services and provides maternal healthcare in the most vulnerable countries. It has been instrumental in training healthcare workers, providing access to contraception, and supporting the fight against female genital mutilation. Such substantial cuts risk endangering the lives of millions of women and girls if their access to quality healthcare and sexual health education is restricted. In a statement responding to these cuts, Dr. Natalia Kanem highlighted the extent of the decrease in aid; “These cuts will be devastating for women and girls and their families across the world. With the now-withdrawn £130 million ($180 million), the UNFPA Supplies Partnership would have helped prevent around 250,000 maternal and child deaths, 14.6 million unintended pregnancies and 4.3 million unsafe abortions.”

Alongside the HIV/AIDS pandemic, health, water and sanitation aid are also set to be cut by 64%. According to WaterAid UK, “10 million people stand to lose out on gaining access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities this year – in the midst of a pandemic.” Given the importance of sanitation in fighting the spread of Covid-19, Tim Wainwright, CEO of WaterAid echoed the concerns of MPs and other aid agencies in his response to the cuts; “There is never a good time to cut aid for lifesaving water and sanitation, but the middle of the worst pandemic for 100 years must be one of the worst.”

Wainwright further stated, “What is even more incredible is that these savage cuts to the funding of water and sanitation, which are the first line of defence against the twin threats of COVID-19 and the impacts of climate change in the world’s poorest countries, should happen just months ahead of the G7 and COP26 climate summits at which the U.K. is wanting to demonstrate global leadership.” Wainwright also criticized the remarks made by Boris Johnson in defence of the cuts, where the Prime Minister said that people would think the government had got its “priorities right” in regard to cutting foreign aid.

Supports against Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are facing a staggering reduction in funding from £167 million to £17 million, according to a Telegraph report. NTDs affect over one billion of the world’s poorest populations and the impact of reduced funding could prove disastrous. In a statement, the U.K. Coalition Against Neglected Tropical Diseases stated, “The current crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of resilient health systems in weathering future threats and preventing dire economic consequences.” They also highlighted the important role of the U.K. in the fight against NTDs and that to step back from its commitments when several countries are on the brink of disease elimination, is irresponsible and a waste of investment.

These cuts not only extend into essential healthcare provisions, but into a wide range of humanitarian crises including conflict, famine, and education. The U.K. government’s decision to withdraw funding and renege on previous promises to maintain its commitment to foreign aid is irresponsible and could have long-term implications on the lives of millions of people. Echoing the concerns of aid agencies and NGOs, as well as politicians and researchers, the OWP calls on the U.K. government to reconsider this decision. As the world continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic, and as vaccine dissemination becomes increasingly politicized, the U.K. has a duty to continue its commitments as a global leader in foreign development and to promote international solidarity and cooperation.

Emer O'Reilly