UK under pressure to increase aid to Global Fund after US pledge

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Initiative to fight malaria, TB and Aids has asked for 30% increase after Covid crisis, but UK yet to announce pledge

A nurse filling a syringe with malaria vaccine before administering it to an infant at a hospital in Kenya.
A nurse filling a syringe with malaria vaccine before administering it to an infant at a hospital in Kenya. Photograph: Baz Ratner/Reuters
A nurse filling a syringe with malaria vaccine before administering it to an infant at a hospital in Kenya. Photograph: Baz Ratner/Reuters

Britain’s new government is facing the first test of its commitment to the global south as it decides whether to follow Joe Biden’s lead and pledge an extra £1.8bn to the Global Fund, the highly successful 20-year-old initiative that fights malaria, tuberculosis and Aids.

A replenishment event to cover funding for the next three years is taking place in New York, and Liz Truss’s administration has been delaying an announcement, partly owing to the death of the Queen.

The UK gave £1.4bn to the fund at the last replenishment event in 2019, making it the second largest contributor after the US. The fund has asked for a 30% increase due to the extent that traditional health aid funding has been transferred to combating Covid over the past two years, damaging the fight against the three deadliest long-term diseases prevalent in Africa.

A 30% increase would require a UK contribution of £1.8bn over three years. The Global Fund is seeking a total pledge of $18bn.

Charities fear the pledging event at the UN general assembly in New York is potentially difficult for the UK since it has not only cut its aid budget since 2019 from 0.7% of UK government spending to 0.5%, but it has said it wants to reduce its funding to multilateral programmes, of which the Global Fund is a prime example. In a sign of the pressure, the Foreign Office in July 2022 suspended “all non-essential aid payments”.

The US aid chief, Samantha Powell, has criticised the leadership the UK has recently been providing on overseas aid, while the UK’s own internal aid spending watchdog, ICAI, on Tuesday issued a note praising the Global Fund’s effectiveness. It pointed out that the four performance agreements the UK reached with the Global Fund as part of its £1.3bn donation in 2019 had all been met.

The pressure on the UK to deliver in an area where it has traditionally been strong is intensified by all the other main donor countries agreeing to a 30% increase in their pledge – including Japan, Germany and the US.

NGOs such as the One Campaign say a full UK pledge contribution would be seen as a show of western unity. Pressure on the UK government from NGOs has been held back after to the death of the Queen but is now intensifying.

The 11-page ICAI report notes: “The UK government has yet to pledge for the seventh replenishment and is later in doing so than it was for the sixth replenishment. It has also delayed some of its payments under the sixth replenishment, but a commitment has been made to parliament that the government is on track to fulfil its 2019 pledge.”

The ICAI lead commissioner, Dr Tamsyn Barton, said the UK faced “difficult choices” since “the government will make its pledge for the seventh replenishment against a backdrop of reduced aid resources. This shortage has been exacerbated by unanticipated calls on the humanitarian budget relating to the Ukraine crisis. It will also be made in the context of the international development strategy’s objective to reduce the share of the UK’s spending going through multilateral channels.”

UK officials say they have been unable to reach a decision partly due to the fiscal event being planned by the Treasury, and the general slowdown in government since the death of the Queen. It is possible ministers could defer a decision until the end of the month.

The ONE campaign points out the UK decision will have a multiplier effect since the US pledge of $6bn is conditional on the US contribution representing a maximum of one-third of the total replenishment. As a result, any pledge by another donor will unlock an additional 50% of the value of its pledge from the US, but if other donors do not collectively pledge $12bn, the US contribution will fall to ensure that its overall contribution remains at one-third.

The campaign estimated that a reduced UK pledge of only £1bn, instead of £1.8bn, would mean $1.3bn of potential US contributions would be foregone, leading to 1.5 million lives being endangered and 28 million people contracting new infections.

“Under a new prime minister and with the dawn of a new administration, there is a chance for the UK to rebuild its reputation in the field of development,” the ONE campaign said.

More on this story

More on this story

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  • Equality and climate feel force of UK’s foreign aid cuts

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