DfID and FCO merger - will this affect access to health information? (4)

22 June, 2020

Dear Julie, Len and Joseph,

Thank you for your contributions on this topic.

Julie: Many members will have noted the announcement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the merger of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Will this affect access to health information around the world? If so, in what way?

Len: How this development will affect access to health information is quite complicated to evaluate but I'll be very interested to hear from Neil and other HIFA members. It does seem clear that the focus on international development will be diluted and UK aid is going to be more closely linked to the UK's political and commercial objectives. On the face of it, this development seems like a retrograde step but I'm eager to hear all sides of the argument.

As Len says, this 'merger' (perhaps better called a 'takeover') suggests 'UK aid is going to be more closely linked to the UK's political and commercial objectives'. It's unclear what impact this would have on the UK Government's support for access to health information. Despite the British Medical Association's unanimous adoption of the resolution in support of HIFA and its call 'upon the UK government to prioritise support for initiatives that improve the availability and use of health information', DFID did not to our knowledge prioritise such support. In 2016 Lord Nigel Crisp tabled two parliamentary questions to the UK Government, which defended the Government's record in very general terms but made no specific commitments for the future:

QUESTION 1:

"To ask Her Majesty's Government what actions they are taking to increase access to information about health and health care for both members of the public and health workers globally." (HL1817)

Tabled on: 12 September 2016

ANSWER:

Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Department for International Development): "The UK government is working with many global partners to increase access to information about health and about health care. A number of our partners are service providers who work directly with patients, providing information as well as services; others are engaged in social marketing and improve understanding about health prevention, protection and care seeking. We also invest in global partnerships, such as the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and the STOP TB Partnership whose members include patient organisations that seek to increase access to information."

QUESTION 2:

"To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the work of Health Information for All." (HL1818)

ANSWER:

Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Department for International Development): "DFID research and evidence programmes, in particular, invest in outputs that increase knowledge about health and health care provision and one of the programmes (TDR, the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases) is a member of Health Information for All."

To our knowledge, no government has yet explicitly championed the vision of universal access to healthcare information. The HIFA Steering Group is working hard to change this, including the publication this year of an editorial in The BMJ and a paper in BMJ Global Health.

With regards to the FCO-DFID 'merger/takeover', the greater concern is how this will affect international development in general: bilateral support; support for many NGOs represented on HIFA who are partly or largely dependent on DFID; erosion of DFID's world-renowned technical expertise (with diffuse negative impact on the development community generally); and - most importantly - the overall impact this will have in the long-term on poverty and preventable suffering.

Best wishes, Neil

Let's build a future where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare information - Join HIFA: www.hifa.org

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese). Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG neil@hifa.org