The British government has created a new “global health” directorate in the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office, a sign of a renewed focus in the wake of the worldwide devastation wreaked by Covid-19.
The new team will prioritise tackling the pandemic as well as coming up with strategies for how to prevent the next threat. Bringing down the huge numbers of preventable deaths of mothers and babies around the world is also at the top of the to-do list.
The UK has long been seen as a leader in global health, but there have been fears that contributions could be impacted by the recent foreign aid cuts, and concerns that “Covid has come to represent global health to the UK government”, as some charity bosses put it last year.
However, the creation of the new directorate is a sign that the pandemic has re-established global health at the forefront of the government’s mind. Reiterating the long-standing commitment to cutting preventable maternal and child mortality by 2030 may also calm fears that Covid has eclipsed all over priorities.
Wendy Morton, the FCDO minister covering global health, told The Telegraph the UK was already a“ force for good” in global health. For example, the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called for a ceasefire at the UN Security Council earlier this week to allow the world’s most vulnerable to get coronavirus vaccines.
“The FCDO’s new, dedicated global health directorate brings development and diplomacy together to drive this global effort to end the pandemic, but also to strengthen co-operation on other vital issues such as ending the preventable deaths of mothers, new-born babies and children, and strengthening the World Health Organisation,” she said.
Alongside the pandemic and future preparedness, the global health team within FCDO are also expected to address other challenges, including strengthening health systems in developing countries as well as other areas like nutrition, sanitation and reproductive health and rights.
The UK is already the second biggest state donor to global health spending across the world.
Last year, after the United States pulled out of the World Health Organisation under President Donald Trump, the UK became its biggest government funder. The new US President Joe Biden has since stated his renewed commitment to the WHO.
The UK has also taken a leading role in tackling the pandemic, making major contributions to the WHO’s Covax initiative aiming to distribute coronavirus vaccines equitably around the world.
However, the cut in the aid budget last year from 0.7 per cent of gross national income to 0.5 per cent, taking the total available down to around £10bn, alarmed many in the sector. Its impact on global health spending is not yet clear.
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