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Calls for protecting health aid funding

Irish Forum for Global Health calls for protecting health aid funding

(CNS): The Irish Forum for Global Health (IFGH) is concerned at the further cuts to the overseas aid budget in the Government's four-year plan. It urges the Government to protect aid funding for health and HIV programmes in developing countries and to keep its promise to increase aid to 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) by 2015. The current economic crisis threatens to reverse much of the progress made in developing countries over recent decades and UNESCO estimates that the economic downturn will cause between 200,000 and 400,000 additional child deaths each year between now and 2015. Urgent measures are needed to protect the poor and vulnerable.

Ireland has a responsibility to help address the health needs of developing countries. While health in Ireland has steadily improved, the gap has widened between Ireland and the least developed countries.
External aid for health has proven to be effective. For example, more than 5 million people are now on anti-retroviral treatment for HIV in developing countries, compared to just 300 thousand in 2002. There has been a dramatic reduction in malaria deaths due to the distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets. Aid for health has also been good for economic development as tackling major diseases such as tuberculosis (TB) and malaria makes people healthier and more productive.

Developing countries are dependent on external aid to provide even the most basic healthcare. Cuts in aid budgets make it harder for governments to invest in critical service developments, such as recruiting new health workers, provision of emergency obstetric care and safe delivery services, and expanding immunisation programmes. Some of these effects will reverse hard-fought gains and have long term consequences for health in these countries.

Ireland's aid budget was reduced from €920 million in 2008 to €722 million in 2009. European Commission President José Manuel Barroso has said "The recession must not, cannot, will not be used as an excuse for going back on aid promises." Other European countries, including the UK, have managed to maintain aid levels despite recession.

Ahead of his Keynote Speech to be delivered at the Irish Forum for Global Health Biennial Conference 2010 taking place at the end of November, Professor Father Michael Kelly, well known and respected Irish Jesuit priest, researcher and author who has lived in Zambia for over 50 years gave his view on Irish foreign aid for health "Maintaining levels of aid, especially for health, makes economic sense, is the right, just and decent thing to do, and is something that even in the current difficult economic climate the majority of Irish people would want. Reducing the level of aid would bring only minor relief to the Irish budget but would mean major budgetary and human setbacks in recipient countries."

Dr David Weakliam, of the Irish Forum for Global Health (IFGH), stated: "Health is a vital part of the Government's overseas development programme. The further cuts in aid in the four-year plan will undoubtedly have a negative impact on the health of people in the poorest countries. They will also damage the excellent reputation Ireland has earned for its assistance to the underprivileged in developing countries."

The Irish Forum for Global Health (IFGH) opposes further cuts in the aid budget in order to protect the health of the world's poorest and most vulnerable people.

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