On Sunday (11 July), a group of philanthropists including the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the ELMA Philanthropies and Open Society Foundations pledged £94 million in emergency funding – a welcome move to cover some of the £4.5 billion UK foreign aid cuts. Today (13 July), the UK Government won a Commons vote to lock in cuts to spending on overseas aid, despite a rebellion by Conservative party MPs.
In response to the developments, Thoko Elphick-Pooley, Executive Director of Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases, said:
“It’s been a rollercoaster week for international aid. We would like to thank the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the ELMA Philanthropies and Open Society Foundations for providing emergency funding to partially cover some of the UK foreign aid cuts. It is anticipated that this temporary funding will help to deliver some of the donated treatments that were at risk of expiry due to the UK aid cuts in 14 countries and deliver disability prevention surgeries. This much needed contribution will help to preserve the vital drug donation programme and provide treatment to protect women and children, from neglected tropical diseases, many of whom are also exposed to COVID-19 with no access to vaccines.
However this funding is temporary and will not plug the large funding hole left by the UK withdrawal from neglected tropical disease programmes. As we outlined in April, the UK foreign aid cuts resulted in a 95% cut in funding for neglected tropical disease programmes, leaving millions of people in 26 countries vulnerable to these devastating diseases and risking wastage of almost 200 million donated treatments.
As such, the outcome of the UK vote on foreign aid cuts (where UK MPs narrowly lost a motion to reinstate 0.7% spend in 2022) can only be described as a disaster for the world’s most vulnerable people. The conditions for reverting to 0.7% outlined by HMT mean that we are unlikely to return to 0.7% for several years to come. This threatens years of hard-fought progress toward eliminating neglected tropical diseases in several countries, and possible disease resurgence in areas once free of these devastating diseases.
Funding to tackle neglected tropical diseases is one of the best investments in development, both in terms of impact (43 countries have eliminated a neglected tropical disease) and in leveraged funding (it is estimated that for every £1 spent on neglected tropical diseases programmes, £26 in donated medicines are given through partnerships with pharmaceutical companies).
What’s more, neglected tropical diseases are preventable and treatable. Therefore we urge the UK Government to keep its manifesto promise to end preventable deaths by including neglected tropical diseases as a priority in the new international aid strategy and as part of the 0.5% spend. We also call on other partners, donors and endemic countries to commit to further action to tackle these diseases. As COVID-19 has demonstrated, the elimination of infectious diseases is a global public good which benefits everyone. It is a matter of our collective health security to prioritise the fight against neglected tropical diseases and to resource efforts to tackle them.”