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Is UK’s Foreign Aid Budget Going to Right Places? The Poverty and Healthcare Crisis in Latin America



The recent cuts to the UK foreign aid budget have highlighted significant repercussions for the countries the UK is directly supporting with its foreign budget. However, this has also brought attention to the lack of support the UK has provided to countries outside of its priority continents, which are equally in need of humanitarian assistance.


In this piece, Shameet Thakkar, founder and managing director of Unimed Procurement Services (Unimed), reflects on the poverty and healthcare crisis in Latin America, and the reasons behind the limited support the UK has offered these countries in recent years.


Where does the UK spend its foreign aid budget?


As of 2020, the top five countries that received UK aid were Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, Afghanistan and Yemen, with official data from The UK Government confirming that Africa continues to receive the largest portion of UK bilateral aid, and Asia being a close second.


The efforts the UK has dedicated to Africa have gone towards supporting a variety of causes outside of improved healthcare including economic growth, climate change, education and jobs as well as promoting greater UK engagement.


The Foreign Office has described East Africa in particular as a region where the UK has a long history of engagement, and while politics certainly have a significant role to play with regards to the distribution and spending of foreign aid budget, the UK’s – as well as other European countries’ - lack of focus on regions such as Latin America should undoubtedly be explored.


Why does Latin America need aid?


The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), is actively calling on countries and health professionals to help them in the fight against the life-threatening diseases affecting thousands in the region.


Providing humanitarian assistance should be an objective to actively strive towards for countries which, like the UK, have the means to devote a significant portion of their governmental budget to foreign aid.


Recently, the Ukraine crisis has caused substantial repercussions in Latin America, which faces financial difficulties and uncertainty this year, with forecasted increases in poverty, a slowing of economy and an extra 7.9 million individuals joining the 86.4 million whose food security is at risk.


Poverty is a widespread problem in the region, with populations within individual countries such as Guatemala – where 50% of the population is currently living in poverty and 18% in extreme poverty - struggling to access basic resources.


PAHO has also identified rising trends for a number of diseases such as syphilis and congenital syphilis, with an estimated 4.6 million individuals currently affected - a number that should be deemed unacceptable for a disease that is entirely curable when access to treatment is available.


Albeit Covid-19 is no longer a healthcare emergency in many European countries, it continues to have a severe impact on the region, with 224 million individuals yet to receive a vaccine, many of those affected by pre-existing conditions, and therefore, particularly at risk.


And the challenges don’t end with the poverty, malnutrition and healthcare crises, as there are structural and economic challenges that are yet to be addressed as the region focuses its efforts on the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic.


Pollution is also a concern, with the region hosting the Amazon rainforest, which is now emitting more CO2 than it absorbs. Latin American countries are suffering from the effects of greenhouse gas emissions despite generating less than the US, Europe and Asia, as a result of which an estimated 17 million individuals will be forced to relocate within the next 30 years.


Making necessary changes


The UK’s priorities when it comes to foreign aid spending span across a variety of topics of importance, including global health, humanitarian response, climate change and economic development, with money being distributed based on what are believed to be the biggest concerns year by year.


The distribution of this budget between countries should reflect a similar pattern, being allocated in a realistic way based on an assessment of the severity of the issues affecting them and their capacity to cope with emergencies.


Improving healthcare systems goes hand-in-hand with reducing poverty, as ensuring that individuals worldwide have access to reliable healthcare resources without risking falling into poverty can play a significant role.


For regions such as Latin America, this should start with removing barriers in accessing prevention and care, as well as building more resilient, future-proof healthcare systems to allow individuals to deal with healthcare crises as efficiently as possible.


Yet accelerating progress and optimising the usage of limited resources is not feasible for these regions without a stable source of support such as countries like the UK, who can make an enormous difference by dedicating even a small portion of their budget and efforts towards humanitarian relief.


And UK charities and other organisations involved in providing aid to poverty-stricken countries should similarly distribute their budget and resources as equally as possible. As a global supplier of healthcare and medical products, Unimed regularly partners with several aid organisations and charities worldwide, which target specific countries in need with dedicated humanitarian relief missions.


Having identified a need to provide assistance in Latin America, Unimed has recently focused its efforts on Guatemala, Honduras and Panama, sourcing and delivering lifesaving products for their populations, and plans to continue to assist the region in the near future.

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