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UK aid cuts hit King's vital global health programmes

Laura Hucks

Director, King's Global Health Partnerships

04 May 2021

Last week, as the terrible consequences of the UK government’s decision to cut the overseas development assistance budget by £4 billion became clear, at King’s Global Health Partnerships we grappled with the destructive impact this will have on our colleagues – the committed health workers who are striving to deliver health care in Africa’s clinics and hospitals.

I joined King’s Global Health Partnerships just over two years ago, but I had come across their work several years before when I was working in Sierra Leone during the 2014/15 Ebola response. King’s played a leading role in the Ebola response, drawing on the skills of the UK’s NHS doctors and nurses, working alongside our Sierra Leonean partners. At that time, we received valuable support from the UK government and not only were lives saved, but the pandemic was brought under control before it spread to countries beyond West Africa. The UK government’s pragmatism, compassion and spirit of internationalism has always made me proud to be British.

Ebola response team Sierra Leone

But the last few weeks have been soul-destroying. In February, we experienced swingeing cuts to the UK Aid-funded ‘Saving Lives’ programme in Sierra Leone. The programme enabled, among other things, the running of Sierra Leone’s ambulance and referral service. With no warning, the funding was stopped. Ambulances ran out of fuel. Over 300 referrals were not made. District Health teams were left floundering, with no clear communication from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). Those who suffered most were the women and children requiring emergency care. There is no question that there were fatalities as a result.

Ambulance at Connaught Hospital Sierra Leone

Last week we learnt that further funding for global health has been cut. For the African countries where we work, this will have grave consequences for the poorest and most vulnerable. It means that in Somaliland, our project to improve care for 15,000 pregnant women and their babies will now not go ahead. Somaliland is one of the worst countries to give birth in, with too many women still dying of preventable causes, most commonly from excessive bleeding following the birth. The deep frustration is that we know we can change this – at King’s, our partnerships with Somaliland health workers, the active engagement of NHS volunteers and deep expertise of King’s College London academics, mean that together we have the skills and knowledge to strengthen the health system so that these women and babies can survive and thrive.

Mother and baby in Somaliland

The funding cuts also mean that we won’t be able to support hospitals in the Democratic Republic of Congo to install solar power in the operating theatres. In the Kongo Central region, where traffic collisions are frequent, we have been training surgeons to deliver life-saving trauma care. But often they are hampered by lack of reliable electricity supply, which means that doctors can’t use essential medical and diagnostic devices; and don’t have the basic lighting they need to carry out emergency surgery after dark.

DRC Trauma work collage

The funding cuts are deeply painful for the King’s team and for our African partners. But what is worse is that they do not make sense from a strategic perspective. One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, with the global death count standing at 3 million, one thing is clear: Health care systems have been at the frontline. And they will be at the frontline of future global pandemics. The UK’s decision to disinvest from partnerships that strengthen health systems displays a short-sightedness that is deeply disconcerting.


This short-sightedness by the UK government risks exacerbating the impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic for some of the worlds most vulnerable people, and potentially extending the long-term global effects for decades to come.– Laura Hucks, King's Global Health Partnerships

The UK has always strived to be a leader in the international development sector, but without a reversal of this position, we will have failed in our moral duty and will leave our reputation on the global stage in tatters. How can we expect other countries to step up when we are about to turn our backs? The UK government needs to reconsider this decision to cut overseas development assistance to global health before it’s too late.

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