Monday, April 12, 2010

Health aid caused cuts in African health budgets

A new study finds that international aid for health programs have caused some countries to cut their health budgets. Instead of African countries increasing their health budgets, the money instead went to other areas. The money may have been spent on other needed areas like infrastructure or schools, or was just taken via corruption.

From this Associated Press story that we found at Google News, writer Maria Cheng gives us more details from the study.

Most countries in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East doubled their health budgets. But many in Africa — including those with the worst AIDS outbreaks — trimmed their health spending instead. In the Lancet study, for every dollar received from donors, poor countries transferred up to $1.14 originally slated for their health budgets elsewhere. The research was paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"We don't know what countries are doing with their own money once the donor money comes in," said Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington and one of the paper's authors. Murray said health aid saves millions of lives, but governments need to be more transparent about what they're spending on.

The research raises questions about whether international aid is sometimes detrimental. Previous studies have found pricey United Nations health initiatives haven't paid off and occasionally hurt health systems. Experts estimate about half of international health aid can't be traced in the budgets of receiving countries.

Murray's paper also found debt relief had no effect on health spending. Activists like Bob Geldof and Bono have long argued canceling African debts would allow countries to spend more on their health problems, but there was no evidence of that.

"When an aid official thinks he is helping a low-income African patient avoid charges at a health clinic, in reality, he is paying for a shopping trip to Paris for a government minister and his wife," said Philip Stevens, of the London-based think tank International Policy Network. He was not linked to the study.

Others said countries might be shifting money to other areas that could benefit health tangentially, like building schools or roads.

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