A report published in the latest edition of the medical journal Lancet finds that after getting billions of dollars in health aid, some African countries responded by cutting their health budgets, the Associated Press reports.
Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the report, Public Financing of Health in Developing Countries: A Cross-National Systematic Analysis (13 pages, PDF), found that international health aid jumped from about $8 billion in 1995 to almost $19 billion in 2006, with the United States topping the list of large foreign donors. But while the international donor community gave aid believing the funds would supplement the health budgets of poor countries, the report found that the money prompted some governments to spend on entirely different things — shopping sprees by corrupt politicians, road or school building projects, and so on — that could not be tracked.
Most countries in Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East doubled their health budgets over the period in question, while many in Africa — including those with the worst outbreaks of AIDS — trimmed their health spending. Indeed, for every dollar received from major international donors, poor countries transferred up to $1.14 originally slated for their health budgets to other activities. Previous studies have found that some expensive United Nations health initiatives have not paid off as expected and occasionally impaired health systems in developing countries.
Public health officials emphasized that more research is needed on how money gets spent in poor countries and that developed nations should not immediately pull the plug. "Donors should be much more insistent about whether aid does add to health budgets," said Andrew Cassels, a senior strategy expert at the World Health Organization. "In the past, it was assumed that aid did good things, but we clearly need more data."