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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Global Health

Does foreign aid work? I've mentioned that question previously, but there's new disturbing data recently published in The Lancet, a prestigious medical journal. Here's the AP account of one recent study:
Trying to show health campaigns actually saved lives is "a very difficult scientific dilemma," said Tim Evans, a senior World Health Organization official who worked on one of the papers.

In one paper, WHO researchers examined the impact of various global health initiatives during the last 20 years.

They found some benefits, like increased diagnosis of tuberculosis cases and higher vaccination rates. But they also concluded some U.N. programs hurt health care in Africa by disrupting basic services and leading some countries to slash their health spending.
The other study discussed in the AP story about the journal articles notes that health aid dollars do not necessarily match need. It would appear as if many political factors influence aid decisions:
[University of Washington researcher Chris] Murray and colleagues also found AIDS gets at least 23 cents of every health dollar going to poor countries. Globally, AIDS causes fewer than 4 percent of deaths.

"Funds in global health tend to go to whichever lobby group shouts the loudest, with AIDS being a case in point," said Philip Stevens of International Policy Network, a London think tank.
Somewhat cynically, Philip Stevens of International Policy Network (a British think tank) points out the mixed motives of the aid community:
"The public health community has convinced the public the only way to improve poor health in developing countries is by throwing a ton of money at it," Stevens said. "It is perhaps not coincidental that thousands of highly paid jobs and careers are also dependent on it."
It's fairly disheartening.

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