In Brief: Hole caused by UK aid cuts to health 'unlikely' to be replaced

Vehicles loaded with generators and other supplies provided by the U.K. for the construction of an Ebola treatment center in Kerry Town, Sierra Leone. Photo by: Staff Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC / DFID / CC BY-NC

The hole left in bilateral health funding by the U.K. government abandoning its commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid is unlikely to be replaced by other sources of funding, according to researchers from the Center for Global Development.

In countries where U.K. bilateral health spending is high, such as Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria, researchers said it would be “very hard” for ambassadors — who now control aid decisions — to manage cuts of 50% to 70% “without significantly impacting on these programmes.”

“Absolute funding for health, from donors and domestic sources, is likely to fall in most countries, leaving few options to fill the gap caused by the FCDO's cuts,” added the researchers, referring to the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.

But the ability of lower-income countries to pay for health care has already been significantly diminished as a result of the economic chaos wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. And creative financial solutions are unlikely to make up the difference, according to the researchers.

“Reforming taxes during a fiscal crisis is unlikely to be on the scale needed to replace the aid funding gap,” Pete Baker, a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development and an author of the research note, told Devex. “Is it likely that low-income countries can raise taxes off a smaller tax base to replace the aid lost?”

While officials are still figuring out where the reductions will fall, U.K. bilateral aid is expected to take a significant hit, with staffers reportedly stunned at the level of cuts. CGD researchers highlighted that health spending made up 14% of bilateral aid in 2019, at £1.4 billion.

About the author

  • William Worley

    William Worley is the U.K. Correspondent for Devex, covering DFID and British aid. Previously, he reported on international affairs, policy, and development. He also worked as a reporter for the U.K. national press, including the Times, Guardian, Independent, and i Paper. His reportage has included work on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, drought in Madagascar, the "migrant caravan" in Mexico, and Colombia’s peace process. He can be reached at william.worley@devex.com.