The UK Government has announced its review of bilateral aid and multilateral aid – basically aid that is given direct to countries and aid which goes through international organisations. One big winner today seems to be GAVI – the Global Alliance for vaccines and immunisations – which Save the Children is supporting strongly.
The UK is in an interesting situation. While making cuts to public services to cope with the global financial crisis, the aid budget has been protected. While it’s not the biggest budget (for instance if they cut aid completely it would not cover much of the NHS budget), it exposes the government to criticism.
Many of their traditional supporters are critical of this decision and claim that corruption means the UK should not give aid or that “charity begins at home”. Aid agencies like Save the Children are therefore keen to support the decision to protect the aid budget.
Deciding which countries and which agencies to prioritise is a sensible thing, as long as clear criteria are applied and prioty given to those with highest need. Some of the countries with the highest needs are those with the least functioning governments and high levels of corruption.
Deciding which international agencies to support must also balance these needs. GAVI was always going to be a strong contender. Its model of funding low-cost vaccines and supporting poor countries to introduce them appeals to donor governments.
Vaccines not enough — need to invest in health systems as well
But GAVI is also clear that buying vaccines alone is not enough. It recognises that unless you invest in health systems to deliver the vaccines sustainably, then any gains made by GAVI funding will be lost quickly.
GAVI has set out a strategy for the next five years, which takes it through to the Millennium Development Goal deadline. As well as getting existing cheap vaccines to the poorest children (those most in need are paradoxically those most excluded), they are developing ways of getting newer vaccines into use. They have also committed that 15-25% of their funding will go to health system strengthening.
The UK government has highlighted GAVI as an agency that is performing well and an excellent use of UK aid. It says that it can expect increased funding. This is great news, but GAVI now needs more countries to also commit if it is to attain the $3.7bn funding gap it needs to fill to carry out its plan.