Ebola virus: Efforts to fight virus ‘being let down by cuts to direct aid’

The report comes as the Government pledged a further £20m to aid stretched health services in the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone

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A decision by British ministers to reduce direct, multilateral aid to Sierra Leone and Liberia may have contributed to failures in tackling the spread of Ebola, a cross-party committee of MPs claims.

The International Development Committee said that the Government had deliberately taken a decision to cut direct aid to the countries by a fifth, and instead channel resources through international institutions such as the EU.

But when the committee visited Liberia, they discovered that just 5 per cent of the $60m (£37m) EU health sector support had been passed on by Liberia’s Ministry of Finance over a two-year period.

This failure, MPs said “placed many of the gains made by earlier DfID [Department for International Development] programmes at risk and left the Liberian health system struggling even before Ebola struck”.

“The scale of the Ebola crisis now unfolding in Sierra Leone and Liberia may well be connected to declining levels of international support for health system improvements in what remain two of the poorest and least developed countries in the world,” the chair of the committee, Sir Malcolm Bruce, said.

“In the midst of this devastating epidemic, and at a time when the UK has reached its 0.7 per cent target for overseas development assistance, it is wrong for the UK to cut its support to these two countries by nearly a fifth. The planned termination of further UK funding to the Liberian health sector is especially unwise.”

It called for the UK’s bilateral aid budget for Sierra Leone and Liberia to be reinstated and for more effort to be made in assessing the effectiveness of aid being delivered by outside agencies.

“DfID donates 16 per cent of its total budget via the EU, so ministers must take a closer interest in where UK money is going and whether it is being spent as intended. Yet neither the EU itself nor DfID seem to be concerned about how much of the work they recently funded has been undone through this failure to distribute ongoing support.”

The report comes as the Government pledged a further £20m to aid stretched health services in the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone.

The sum is on top of the UK’s existing £100m action plan, the International Development Secretary, Justine Greeningg said.

It comes ahead of an international conference on the epidemic to be held in London tomorrow to discuss how the global community can provide an effective response.

Experts have warned that the crisis in West Africa has developed on an unprecedented scale, with the current rate of infection at 1.7 – meaning that for every 10 people that contract the virus, a further 17 will also be infected. The aim is to get the rate down to one, and eventually below one.

The £20m in extra aid will go towards providing medical supplies, including chlorine, personal protection equipment such as masks, protection suits and gloves, and essential water and sanitation facilities.

It will also be used to deploy clinicians, global health experts, epidemiologists and infection control advisers from Public Health England, King’s Health Partners and the UN.

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