Maybe Debt Relief Won’t Help Poor Countries After All
The results of this new study about the ineffectiveness of international aid to certain developing countries is not surprising, but it is still depressing.
For years, the international community has forked over billions in health aid, believing the donations supplemented health budgets in poor countries. It now turns out development money prompted some governments to spend on entirely different things, which cannot be tracked. The research was published Friday in the medical journal Lancet.
Experts analyzed all available data for government spending on health in poor countries and the aid they received. International health aid jumped from about $8 billion in 1995 to almost $19 billion in 2006, with the United States being the biggest donor.
Most countries in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East doubled their health budgets. But many in Africa – including those with the worst AIDS outbreaks – trimmed their health spending instead. In the Lancet study, for every dollar received from donors, poor countries transferred up to $1.14 originally slated for their health budgets elsewhere. The research was paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Moreover, debt relief for many countries is unlikely to have a positive effect either, the study suggests.
Murray’s paper also found debt relief had no effect on health spending. Activists like Bob Geldof and Bono have long argued canceling African debts would allow countries to spend more on their health problems, but there was no evidence of that.
“When an aid official thinks he is helping a low-income African patient avoid charges at a health clinic, in reality, he is paying for a shopping trip to Paris for a government minister and his wife,” said Philip Stevens, of the London-based think tank International Policy Network. He was not linked to the study.