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UK Aid Cuts and COVID-19: A double blow leaving the world’s most vulnerable behind

9 November 2021

Global inequalities in access to healthcare have never been more apparent than during this pandemic. The distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has almost entirely neglected low and middle-income countries (LMIC) and combined with the abrupt withdrawal of UK Aid funding, the stark inequalities in access to health between nations of different financial wealth have increased as a result. In response, UK anaesthetists have written to the UK government asking them to urgently increase the number of viable vaccine doses provided for low and middle-income country nations and to cancel the withdrawal of UK Aid in affected programmes.

The rapid development and implementation of multiple COVID-19 vaccines approved for use has been heralded one of the greatest scientific discoveries of our time.  However, success has been limited by preferential vaccine access to the world’s richest nations, and therefore LMICs continue to lack the population immunity needed to reduce further outbreaks.

The World Health Organization has repeatedly condemned the inequitable distribution of doses, and has called for governments of richer nations who have successfully vaccinated a large percentage of their population, to donate doses to LMICs, particularly through the COVAX scheme. WHO Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has explained that the inequitable supply of vaccines has meant that the 30 poorest nations have been able to fully vaccinate just 2% of their population.

Compounding the negative effects of a lack of vaccine doses, UK Aid was also significantly reduced or completely withdrawn from multiple current and upcoming programmes during the pandemic, therefore taking resources, finance, and capacity away from the very health systems we depend on for good pandemic management.

Strength across health systems is essential for global pandemic management. Good antenatal care is vital for informing expectant mothers of the risks of COVID-19 in pregnancy and when and how to seek help. Community health interventions are needed to disseminate public health information and ensure risk factors for COVID-19 infection are managed as effectively as possible. Surgical systems are needed to ensure patients can continue to access essential surgery in a way that mitigates risk of them developing hospital-acquired COVID-19 infection. It is these very systems and others that are weakened by the abrupt loss of UK aid, and are therefore negatively impacted for both the management of COVID-19 and other essential healthcare.

A letter initiated by the UK charity Global Anaesthesia Development Partnerships and co-signed by 13 UK anaesthetic organisations, including the Royal College of Anaesthetists, advocates for the UK to increase vaccine support and reverse the decision to cut UK Aid. This letter has been delivered to the Secretaries of State for Health and Social Care and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, in addition to the International Development Committee and the leaders of all UK political parties.

The letter can be accessed here.

You can support this work by retweeting posts about this letter on social media (available at @globalanaes), sharing the letter with your MP or other community political representatives, or developing a letter focusing on these themes on behalf of your health partnership or organisation.

Both inequitable distribution to vaccines and withdrawal of UK Aid leave populations open to further outbreaks and newer, more virulent strains of COVID-19 which present a risk to all nations and health systems. The end of this pandemic depends on a united global response.

This post was written by:

Dr. Sonia Akrimi and Dr. Emma Coley - Global Anaesthesia Development Partnerships


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