Global health assistance, in growing competition with other development areas, continues to decline

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Dr. Christopher Murray, Dr. Jen Kates, Dr. Howard Bauchner

Dr. Christopher Murray,  Jen Kates, Dr. Howard Bauchner

After rapid growth for over a decade, development assistance for global health has decreased over the past five years and will probably continue to drop, according to panelists this week at a CSIS event launching the report, “Financing Global Health 2014.” The report, produced by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, says donors spent $35.9 billion in global health assistance last year.

Between 2000 and 2010, global health assistance grew 11.3 percent every year, but since 2010, that number has dropped to 1.4 percent annual growth, with 2014 seeing a 1.6 percent drop in spending compared to 2013, said report author Dr. Christopher Murray.

That decade saw massive improvements in health, from turning the HIV epidemic around to cutting deaths of children under five significantly, Murray said.

In 2014 the US spent $12.4 billion on health assistance, with half of that funding going towards HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention. Except for maternal and child health, all global health areas saw a drop in funding last year, including a continued drop in infectious disease funding, Murray said.

“There seems to be a weariness on the Hill,” said Jen Kates of the Kaiser Family Foundation about global health funding. “There is a sense that global health has gotten a lot.”

“We should be concerned about flat funding,” she said, adding that according to the World Health Organization, 400 million people – mostly in Africa – still lack at least one essential health service.

The report notes that while three of the eight Millennium Development Goals focused on health, global health is just one small part of the Sustainable Development Goals. With 17 goals and hundreds of indicators the SDGs are more expansive. “We will be competing for resources,” Kates said, noting that “we haven’t finished the MDG agenda.”

Backsliding on funding poses a threat to meeting infectious disease goals, Kates said, and “we saw what happened with Ebola,” she added.

Dr. Howard Bauchner, editor in chief of JAMA, said Dr. Thomas Frieden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been asking for funding to develop local sentinel labs for disease detection in developing countries for years, but has never received it. “He didn’t get it until after Ebola hit,” Bauchner said.

Bauchner also noted the National Institutes of Health’s budget has been flat lined for five years, despite inflation, threatening the U.S. role in global biomedical research. “The U.S. used to account for 50-55 percent of global biomedical research funding, but now we spend 40-45 percent globally,” he said.

The next phase of global health investment should focus on building infrastructure, Bauchner said, “so we can respond to something like Ebola.”

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