The UK has pledged £1bn for an initiative designed to fight three of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases, a decision that will be “relieved” internationally, including by the Joe Biden government.
The new pledge to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria follows concerns that Britain — which helped build the initiative — would not donate after making no promises during a fundraising campaign in September.
The Global Fund was founded in 2002 and has saved 50 million lives in the years since. The UK is usually a top donor but has postponed its contribution following the death of Queen Elizabeth II and amid massive political turmoil at home.
But internationally, this raised concerns that Britain was stepping out of the fund, especially as the aid budget was cut from 0.7 percent of national income to 0.5 percent, effectively wiping out about £3 billion.
Last month, reports indicated tensions with President Biden’s administration — which hosted the Global Fund replenishment conference and pledged $6 billion — over the delay.
The initiative is an important soft power tool for Washington and America has played a pivotal role since the fund’s launch during George Bush Jr.’s presidency in 2002. In addition to being by far the largest lender, the permanent seat of the U.S. in the management of the fund the government with a key role in strategy and supervision.
Analysts told the Telegraph that Washington will be “enlightened” by Britain’s £1m pledge over three years, amid genuine concerns it might not materialize at all. But they warned that the UK’s approach has “undermined its position as a trusted partner with the US”.
The pledged amount is also well below the £1.46bn pledged by the UK in 2019, significantly less than the £1.8bn requested by the fund, and puts Britain behind Germany and France.
“There is no doubt that this is a diminution in the UK’s global role, a sense that it does not live up to the occasion,” said Ranil Dissanayake, senior policy officer in Global Health Policy at the Center for Global Development. “Nevertheless, there were real fears it would do even less, so a £1bn pledge will be welcomed by partners, albeit with some caveats.”
Pete Baker, deputy director of Global Health Policy at the think tank, added that while it is the first time in 20 years that Britain’s contribution has fallen, “the US will be relieved that the UK has offered something material”.
However, NGOs have been less charitable, warning that the reduced funding comes at a time when more resources than ever are needed to combat unprecedented disruptions caused by the pandemic.
“This is a disastrous decision that will lead to the preventable deaths of up to 1.5 million people and the risk of more than 34.5 million new transmissions of the three diseases, reversing years of progress,” said Mike Podmore, director from Stop Aids. “[It] will damage our credibility as a reliable international player and prevent us from responding effectively to other global crises.”