Some overseas aid programmes are being slowed in the first sign the government may be bowing to Conservative backbench pressure for cuts, a leading tropical disease expert has warned.
Janet Hemingway, director of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said that any reduction would result in the loss of British jobs as well as deaths in the developing world, while the Department for International Development said its ringfenced budget would be protected.
Prof Hemingway, who receives a CBE on Wednesday, told the Financial Times: “A number of funding decisions that should have been taken in October have been put back to December. There are signs that the ringfence could be under threat.”
She said that the delays included funding for a new insecticide to impregnate mosquito nets and for “Making it Happen”, an education programme that has cut the number of women dying in childbirth by 20-30 per cent and the number of stillbirths by 15 per cent across 12 African and Asian countries including India.
In the wake of a campaign by Conservative MPs, Justine Greening, the international development secretary, is expected this week to tell India she is cutting the £280m British aid programme in half on the grounds that the country is rich enough to provide healthcare itself.
“You hear India is being taken out and other countries may follow,” Prof Hemingway said.
A reduction in the British commitment to fund tropical disease work would cost jobs in Liverpool and could cause other donors to pull out too, Prof Hemingway warned.
The school has doubled in size in the past decade thanks to its success in winning international research funding. Of its £60m annual turnover, about £9m comes from Dfid, £12m from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the remainder from the Wellcome Trust, the EU, student fees and subsidiary businesses such as travel vaccination clinics.
“The Gates Foundation could put this work anywhere,” Prof Hemingway said. “If the message is that Dfid is not going to put money in this kind of work [the Gates Foundation] could go to the US or Geneva.”
She said that of its 450 staff, the school has a unit of 40 people that is directly funded by Dfid and it is recruiting 150 scientists.
A spokeswoman for Dfid said the funding decisions had been delayed because it received more applications than expected. She said Ms Greening was committed to increasing overseas aid to 0.7 per cent of gross national income by 2013, the recommended level set by the UN.
In 2011-12, £8.6bn was spent on development assistance, 0.56 per cent of GNI.
Oxfam, the anti-poverty charity that received £24m from Dfid in 2011-12, said it had no indication that the government was making cuts.
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