The international community has set itself ambitious targets to ensure healthy lives for all, aiming for ‘Universal Health Coverage’ (UHC) by 2030, and to deliver the promise of the Global Goals to ‘leave no one behind’. While progress is being achieved in some areas, such as increasing the overall coverage of essential vaccines, and tackling diseases of poverty, in many countries, progress is mixed or even reversing. Struggling health systems, insufficient progress on malnutrition, and high disease burdens remain serious challenges, and many of the most marginalised and remote communities are still denied effective health services.
The UK has long been a leader on global health, for example, as a leading donor to organisations such as Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. It funds extensive nutrition and food security programmes around the world. And support from the Department for International Development (DFID) helps countries to strengthen and increasingly take ownership of their own health services.
However, UK aid priorities are changing to focus more on security and economic development, creating a real risk that human development programmes – such as those that fund health and education – will be reduced. While economic development has been a major factor in more than halving poverty rates since the 1990s, evidence shows that countries that provide health and education services improve their economic development, as well as being the right thing to do. It is critical that DFID’s spending on global health is increased as a proportion of its overall budget, with UK spending on global health rising to 0.1% of Gross National Income (GNI). Failing to focus UK aid spending sufficiently on global health risks a reversal of the progress that has been made.