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Cuts to health aid compromised fight against Ebola

2 October 2014

In the light of the Ebola crisis, the UK’s bilateral aid budget for Sierra Leone and Liberia should be reinstated rather than cut, warn MPs.

Launching a report examining the UK’s recent development work in Sierra Leone and Liberia, Sir Malcolm Bruce, Chair of the International Development Committee said today:

"The scale of the Ebola crisis now unfolding in Sierra Leone and Liberia, may well be connected to declining levels of international support for health system improvements in what remain two of the poorest and least developed countries in the world.

In the midst of this devastating epidemic, and at a time when the UK has reached its 0.7% target for overseas development assistance, it is wrong for the UK to cut its support to these two countries by nearly a fifth.

The planned termination of further UK funding to the Liberian health sector is especially unwise.

The UK can be proud of the work DFID has done to help deliver many improvements in Sierra Leone and Liberia following the Civil Wars in both countries. We believe that this work should continue through bilateral aid programmes.

It is also good that in the short time since our report was agreed DfID has provided extra support for Ebola and many NHS staff have volunteered to go to Sierra Leone.

However, UK ministers must now work harder to track the use of sector support given to Liberia and Sierra Leone through multilaterals we help fund.

When the Committee visited Liberia recently it learned that barely more than five percent ($3.9 million out of $60 million) of EU health sector support given to Liberia was passed on by its Ministry of Finance over a two year period. This failure placed many of the gains made by earlier DFID programmes at risk and left the Liberian health system struggling even before Ebola struck.

The spread of Ebola has clearly demonstrated the importance that governments of developing countries need to attach to health system spending. We have to ask whether Liberia would have dealt better with the original outbreak and prevent its spread had $56 million from the EU been spent as intended by the Liberian Ministry of Finance on its health system.

DFID donates 16% of its total budget via the EU, so Ministers must take a closer interest in where UK money is going and whether it is being spent as intended. Yet neither the EU itself nor DFID seem to be concerned about how much of the work they recently funded has been undone through this failure to distribute ongoing support."

The Committee also calls on DFID to work rapidly to establish a programme to end Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone.

"It concerns us greatly that Sierra Leone - the UK’s largest per capita bilateral recipient of aid – does not currently have a single UK funded programme to curb Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) when this country has one of the highest prevalence in the world of this barbaric practice. We call on DFID to act immediately to remedy this situation," adds Sir Malcolm Bruce.


In a wide ranging report looking at both Liberia and Sierra Leone, MPs conclude:

  • Each country has made significant progress over the past decade, but both remain at a critical juncture where it is likely to take at least a generation of sustained support to secure lasting benefits. To that end UK aid spending to this region should not be cut.
  • DFID should involve itself in tertiary and vocational education in Sierra Leone to help remedy acute skills shortages and to reduce massive youth unemployment.
  • DFID must generate accurate figures for overall UK aid spending directed through centrally managed, multilateral and bilateral programmes to Liberia and Sierra Leone. The Committee was appalled that the Department could not provide an overall figure for its total spend in Sierra Leone.
  • As DFID increases the proportion of funding channelled through centrally managed programmes run from the UK, it must ensure such programmes are better connected to bilateral country offices to improve design, oversight, delivery and outcomes. The Independent Commission on Aid Impact should look into the operation and accounting of DFID centrally managed programmes.

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