Over the weekend, world leaders met in Canada to replenish the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB & Malaria. The UK has been one of the biggest donors to multilateral health funds, notably the Global Fund and Gavi, the vaccines alliance, so there were questions about whether this would continue under the new Secretary of State. In Toronto, Priti Patel announced that the UK would increase its contribution to £1.1 billion over the next three years which the Global Fund calculates will help save 8 million lives.
This is a very welcome signal that health will remain a priority for the UK. After the Secretary of State set out her Departmental blueprint just last week, it is also a very quick transition from words to action.
Priti Patel promised that British aid will be spent helping the world’s poorest people, whilst also ensuring taxpayers get value for money. The Global Fund is thought to be one of the most demonstrably effective development aid instruments and, since its inception, malaria death rates have dropped by nearly two-thirds. These clear examples of success, with evidence of lives saved, is what is needed to make British taxpayers proud of aid.
But as Priti Patel also set out in her blueprint, a well-financed aid budget is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Aid is should help to remove the barriers that stop countries from standing on their own two feet and providing services for their own people. If we are to meet the ambition of the Global Goals by 2030, countries must be empowered to deliver vital services at home. One way to do this is to invest in strengthening national health systems – and to support free, Universal Health Coverage for all. As we learned from the Ebola crisis, responding to specific diseases is not enough. Without helping build health infrastructure, unexpected crises get out of control and gains are not sustainable.
The Department for International Development has already helped to deliver enormous progress on health systems strengthening. And the UK, with its National Health Service, is a much-admired model for universal and free healthcare; our experience is very valuable to other countries starting on this journey.
As well as targeted donations to combat specific diseases, the UK must continue to help countries on the path towards Universal Health Coverage, so that no-one left behind because they do not have the cash to pay for health services. In many cases, the UK helping countries reform their tax systems. For example, UK investment in Rwanda’s tax infrastructure led to a tripling of revenues between 1998 and 2006. This reduced its dependence on aid, whilst simultaneously doubling access to healthcare and exponentially increasing the number of children in education.
By investing directly in the fight against the biggest global killers, as well as continuing to support less-headline-worthy domestic interventions to build UHC, the UK will deliver on its promise to save lives and deliver value for money.