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UK aid cuts: A sledgehammer blow to our health project in Bangladesh
Dominic Raab, the UK foreign secretary, announced last July that there would be a cut to the UK’s aid commitment because the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the UK economy means that gross national income (GNI) would be reduced. News then came in November that the overseas aid budget would be cut to 0.5%, from 0.7%, of gross national income (GNI) in 2021. To be clear – this is a cut on top of a cut. We have now been informed that the health project in Bangladesh which we implemented with partners and the Bangladeshi government, has been terminated.
Our project was bringing essential healthcare to people living in remote, poor and disadvantaged areas of Bangladesh. The project started in 2019 and was due to run until the end of 2022. Just three months ago the project was given an A performance rating by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) meaning that it fully met all of their expectations. While we knew all projects could be at risk under these sweeping cuts, we did not expect funding for this project to be totally withdrawn. It was not a 20, 30 or 50% cut. It was a 100% cut with immediate effect.
This is a huge blow to our team and the local organisations who we are working with on the project but most importantly it is devastating for the people who were due to receive support. The project would have reached over 2.6 million people, including 140,000 people living with a disability.
Activities that will no longer happen include:
- Training to health service providers - this includes training in Covid-19 infection prevention and control, reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health, and disability inclusion.
- Roll out of telemedicine and other digital systems to link people in remote areas with qualified doctors. Services were offered via mobile tele booths and smartphones and prescriptions made available via SMS.
- Provision of health vouchers that ensure people can access essential life-saving healthcare (especially for pregnant women, children under five) that they would otherwise have no access to.
- Building awareness of rights - communities, disadvantaged households and people with living disabilities were being informed about their right to health services and how to make sure they access the support they are entitled to.
- Training of frontline staff on the health impacts of climate-related disasters for people living with disabilities, developing training modules and communication materials on the specific risks and mitigation strategies to support people living with disabilities during disasters.
Currently, there is an outbreak of a diarrhoeal disease in one of the areas where we work. This project would have been in a position to respond but now we are unable to. Diarrhoeal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old so it is likely that this decision to cut funding will result in preventable deaths.
Over the last year the project had pivoted to support the Covid-19 response in the country – so ripping away funding at this time is disastrous. Below are just some of the ways the project was working to tackle the pandemic.
- Provided vehicles, sample collectors and lab technicians in coordination with local government for sample collection, transportation and testing
- Screened people with disabilities for Covid-19
- Video call booths set up for teleconsultations
- Distributed PPE and IPC items to health facilities
- Provided protective hygiene kits to caregivers and family members of people living with disabilities
The project was a part of Government of Bangladesh’s National Health Strategy, and the government is unlikely to be in a position to quickly fill the gap created by the sudden withdrawal of this work. This could cause a major setback to the Covid-19 emergency response.
We understand the economic pressures that the UK government is under as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic but the decision to reduce the aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% will not significantly contribute to meeting the fiscal deficit. However, these cuts will have serious consequences on the lives of the people that UK Aid had committed to improving.
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