Trump's 'rescission' plan, experimental Ebola treatments, and UK aid rules: This week in development

Photo by: Sgt Neil Bryden / RAF

The United Kingdom plans to throw out the official development assistance rulebook, high-level health meetings stall over intellectual property disputes, and President Trump’s administration escalates its war on foreign aid. This week in development:

President Donald Trump’s administration is considering a new tactic in its war against U.S. foreign aid funding. Apparently not content with a process that gives the U.S. Congress power to overrule the White House’s budget requests, the Office of Management and Budget is reportedly considering a “rescissions package,” which would seek to reclaim funding that the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department have not yet spent. Because of the timing of this rumored action — just over one month before the end of the 2018 fiscal year — the move would leave lawmakers with little time to overturn the White House’s effort, creating a possibility that a few billion dollars of money that Congress has already granted for U.S. global development spending could disappear. Sources with knowledge of OMB’s plan say the tactic of issuing a rescissions package so close to the end of the fiscal year — practically eliminating many of Congress’s options to stop it — would be historically unprecedented. The rescissions package under consideration is rumored to only target U.S. foreign assistance money, and is expected to fall hardest on U.S. contributions to the United Nations, as well as funding held in the Economic Support Fund account. The latest reports from multiple sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity are that the package could arrive early next week. It sets the stage for a new battle between the White House and Congress, and would once again test lawmakers’ support for U.S. global development programs.

The United Kingdom may break with established rules governing the use of official development assistance. Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt said that the U.K. aid budget will be used to support disaster relief efforts for wealthier overseas territories that do not qualify as ODA recipients under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee’s guidelines. "It is ridiculous that a country which had been flattened by natural disaster shouldn’t qualify for aid as the day before it was doing quite well. While we lobby to change those rules we will not let them deter what we consider to be the right thing to do. I believe that is what British taxpayers would wish,” Mordaunt told The Telegraph newspaper. According to the OECD, official development assistance can only be used to support an agreed-to list of countries that have per capita gross national incomes below a certain level. If the U.K. uses its aid budget to support countries not on that list, that spending will no longer count as official development assistance — putting at risk the country’s commitment to spend 0.7 percent of its own gross national income on ODA. Jeroen Kwakkenbos, policy and advocacy manager at Eurodad, said the proposal represents “the height of political arrogance and malpractice.”

Health officials responding to Ebola in Democratic Republic of Congo have five experimental treatments in their arsenal that previous response efforts have not been able to deploy. Responders hope that the five therapeutics — which have not been formally approved by the World Health Organization, but which can be administered according for “compassionate use” — will help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of an extremely complicated epidemic response effort. This latest outbreak is in a conflict-affected area of the country, with a level 4 security level under the U.N.’s conflict rating system. In addition to deploying new health technologies — including the rVSV-ZEBOV Ebola vaccine used near the end of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Guinea — responders are wrestling with how to negotiate with armed groups about access to potentially affected communities.

Two high-level meetings on tuberculosis and noncommunicable diseases are falling prey to disagreements over intellectual property issues. The World Trade Organization provides flexibility to governments to override patents for medicines in the name of public health. Some negotiators from high-burden countries, including South Africa, want to see those provisions — called the “trade-related aspects of intellectual property agreement,” or TRIPS — included in the declarations accompanying the two meetings, set to take place during the U.N. General Assembly in New York next month. The United States, in particular, is pushing back on that effort. Some see evidence of a Trump administration working to protect the interests of pharmaceutical companies. “The fact that the July 26, 2018 draft NCD resolution does not mention that prices for new drugs are too high and that access is currently both restricted and unequal is a public relations gift to big pharma, and an effective limitation on the mandate of U.N. agencies to address these problems,” said James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International.

About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.