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Ebola epidemic demonstrates importance of country health systems

12 September 2014

International leadership from the Department for International Development (DFID) to ensure priority is given to programmes that strengthen health systems in many developing countries will be key to the more efficient use of aid and to health improvements over the long term, warn MPs.

Launching a report on strengthening developing health systems, Sir Malcolm Bruce, Chair of the Committee, said today:

"The Ebola epidemic in West Africa was an avoidable tragedy that has served as a devastating reminder for what happens when health systems are weak.

To prevent similar tragedies in the future, it is essential that DFID places a clear priority on health systems strengthening and is vocal internationally to persuade other donors to follow its lead.

DFID has a good record on health but relies on international partners such as the Global Fund and the vaccine alliance, to spend an ever-greater proportion of the UK aid budget. To date these organisations have successfully delivered significant 'quick wins' by targeting specific diseases AIDS, Malaria and TB.

DFID must review its health-related funding arrangements to ensure that sufficient UK aid money spent on health is used to fund the development of sustainable systems capable of improving health outcomes over the longer term. It must also be prepared to withhold funds from organisations unwilling to take this approach.

DFID should make available more statistics about its spending and performance on the development of health systems, to prove that it is in practice delivering on the goals set out in its laudable strategy.

Internationally, DFID must do more to ensure other donor nations follow its lead, becoming a more vocal champion of health system strengthening on the world stage."

The Committee notes the concerns of NGOs and experts in the field that a target-driven mentality has precluded sufficient focus within DfID on health systems strengthening.

MPs also recommended that DFID makes far better use of NHS expertise in its health system strengthening work.

"For all the domestic criticism it gets, the NHS is internationally recognised as one of the best health systems in the world. Yet DFID only makes modest use of the considerable expertise that resides within the NHS. For example, it must be made far easier for doctors, nurses and managers to volunteer overseas, something likely to deliver benefits at home as well as abroad,"

adds Sir Malcolm Bruce.

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