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Letter to PM calls for health to be prioritised in DfID merger

Nearly 30 leading charities and development organisations from the Action for Global Health Network including ONE, Save the Children UK and Plan International UK have called on the Prime Minister to make sure the new department ramps up efforts to build strong, resilient health systems around the world. 

On 16th June, the Prime Minister announced the merger of the Department for International Development (DFID) with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), to create the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

The UK Government has a strong legacy on global health and has built up significant in-house expertise (both within DFID and beyond) which it should continue to protect and draw on throughout the merger. Ensuring continuity throughout the merger will be particularly critical as the Covid-19 crisis continues to impact the health of populations across the globe.

Covid-19 has also highlighted the interconnectedness of the health of people everywhere, and the need to step up efforts to build strong, transparent, accountable and resilient health systems all around the world.

In light of the pandemic, this new department will face particular challenges in terms of global health, requiring an urgent, focused and strategic approach. The merger also presents opportunities to improve and strengthen the UK Government’s role in global health.

A network of leading UK-based charities and organisations working on global health has published a briefing on key recommendations for the new department, sent in a letter to the Prime Minister today which gained over 25 signatures.

The briefing highlights critical areas that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office needs to focus on to ensure health systems everywhere are prepared for future threats to global health. These include:

  • Drawing on pride in our own National Health Service and learning from COVID-19, the UK should throw its weight behind global efforts to achieve universal health coverage. This means championing a holistic and inclusive approach to global health, spanning health systems strengthening, pandemic preparedness and response, water, sanitation and hygiene, sexual and reproductive health and rights, health research and development, anti-corruption, and nutrition.
  • Making the UK a true leader on global health will involve efforts from multiple government departments, NHS bodies and staff, research institutions, NGOs and beyond. Setting out the UK Government’s ambition in a comprehensive Global Health Strategy would give those efforts additional direction and focus to be more than the sum of their parts. This cross-government approach can also be embedded through strengthening the Global Health Oversight Group, with the FCDO chairing this group and overseeing the UK’s work in global health.
  • The UK Government has a strong legacy on global health and has contributed to significant progress over the last couple of decades, including across HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and child and maternal health. However, COVID-19 puts this progress at huge risk. We encourage the UK Government to protect hard-won gains in global health through maintaining Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to health, protecting DfID’s expertise and staff (both in Whitehall and in-country) in the merger, and keeping seats on the boards of all relevant global health institutions, including Gavi, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, UNFPA and UNITAID.
  • A strong focus and UK leadership on critical opportunities for promoting an ambitious vision of global health, such as the UN General Assembly and 75th Anniversary celebrations, the UK hosting of the G7 Presidency, the Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Summit and the COP26 Summit.
  • Appointing a Special Envoy to champion the UK’s role in global health on the international stage and to oversee the implementation of the UK Government’s manifesto commitment to ending the preventable deaths of mothers, newborns and children.
  • Placing poverty reduction at the heart of all ODA spending, embeds development within its governance structures and ensures proper scrutiny over all ODA.

“The new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office must retain and build on the expertise and reputation of both DFID and the FCO to lead the world towards equitable access to affordable, quality healthcare,” said Katie Husselby, Coordinator at Action for Global Health. “As COVID-19 continues to exacerbate existing inequalities and impact health services around the globe, the urgency for strong and focused UK leadership is clear. The new department must make bold moves to mitigate the impact of the crisis and increase the resilience of health systems.”

“Through championing global health, the UK Government can put itself at the forefront of efforts to build health systems that work for everyone. The role of this new department is a critical part of the puzzle in accelerating progress on universal health coverage and driving lasting change beyond 2030.”, said Kevin Watkins, CEO at Save the Children UK.

“Our experience shows us that girls and young women are often worst affected during health crises. As we continue to navigate the uncertainty of this pandemic, it is critical we put children – especially adolescent girls at the heart of the response and recovery,” said Rose Caldwell, CEO at Plan International UK. “The UK’s leadership in global health and gender equality is something the new department must commit to protecting if we are to save lives and improve outcomes for vulnerable and marginalised communities for current and future generations.”

About Action for Global Health 

Action for Global Health (AfGH) is a UK-based network of more than 50 organisations working towards a world where the universal right to health is realised. AfGH acts as the coordinator between the UK government and global health civil society, convening regular meetings and sharing learning from across our network. Visit us at https://actionforglobalhealth.org.uk/


Read the letter complete with signatures here.


About Action for Global Health 

Action for Global Health (AfGH) is a UK-based network of more than 50 organisations working towards a world where the universal right to health is realised. AfGH acts as the coordinator between the UK government and global health civil society, convening regular meetings and sharing learning from across our network. Visit us at https://actionforglobalhealth.org.uk/