The UK's Independent Commission on Aid Impact (ICAI) published a new review concerning the UK government's use of its international development assistance to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
The review praises the UK government for its initial response to the pandemic, which resulted in the rapid allocation of £773 million (US$1.0 billion) in UK official development assistance (ODA) for COVID-19 response by mid-April 2020. This swift response made the UK one of the largest international donors in the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. The review highlights, that despite the lack of an official COVID-19 development assistance strategy, the UK government focused on three core strategic areas:
- providing direct support to the most affected low- and- middle-income countries (LMICs);
- supporting the development of vaccines, tests, and treatments; and,
- addressing the economic consequences of the pandemic.
However, the review argues that the government’s recent decision to reduce its ODA from 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) to 0.5% negatively impacted the UK government's ability to continue to effectively respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The review found, for example, that many ODA programs linked to addressing the pandemic were impacted by large budget cuts. The review cites the significant reduction in key sexual and reproductive health investments as examples of detrimental cuts; previous global health crises have established the importance of maintaining women's access to sexual health, making program cuts in these areas more concerning.
The report made three recommendations to the UK government moving forward:
- Build upon investments in vaccine development to increase supply and equitable roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines to address continuing inequitable global vaccine access;
- Ensure that program leaders are given the discretion to adapt and repurpose programs to address the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling an efficient and effective response; and,
- Review the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office's (FCDO) strategy to repatriate staff during crises to enable a more refined approach based on risk and individual preference. This recommendation was made following the UK's blanket approach to repatriating staff, which contrasts the selective approaches adopted by other donors.