I’m feeling pretty disillusioned right now. It turns out that when America and other developed countries pour billions of dollars in AIDS-relief funds into Africa, many local politicians choose to cut their governments’ own health expenditures and transfer the funds to other priorities. From the Washington Post coverage of a new Lancet study:
The research raises questions about whether international aid is sometimes detrimental. Previous studies have found pricey United Nations health initiatives haven’t paid off and occasionally hurt health systems. Experts estimate about half of international health aid can’t be traced in the budgets of receiving countries.
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.
I suggest the federal government commission a massive, multi-year, multi-disciplinary study to explore these issues further, followed by a blue-ribbon commission to recommend reforms to our foreign-aid programs that would establish more paperwork requirements, improve our understanding of other cultures, and increase our spending significantly so that there will be a larger net effect on health.
There’s no time to waste.