By Eleni Theocharous - 12th November 2012
Many of the biggest economies across Europe, and the EU institutions themselves, are not meeting their commitments on official development assistance
Eleni Theocharous calls on Europe's leaders to make good on their commitments to provide official development assistance and maintain the EU's reputation as the world's most generous development actor.
Health is a right that should be accorded to everybody, regardless where one is born or lives, and it is crucial that governments provide access to healthcare in order to prevent their citizens from being absorbed into the vicious circle of poverty. For many of the world's poorest this danger is a daily reality, with many unable to afford or even gain access to the most basic services that we in the developed world take for granted, although the financial crisis has produced similar circumstances in the developed world where the poor are even poorer and have been left without access to healthcare and governmental healthcare services have proven insufficient. That is why I am extremely concerned about the findings of the latest report by the action for global health network (AfGH) - 'Results or rhetoric: What you didn't know about Europe's aid for health'. This report will be launched in the European parliament at a roundtable event chaired by myself on Wednesday.
In the run-up to the meeting of European leaders on 22 November to discuss the EU budget 2014-2020, this important report reveals that many of the biggest economies across Europe, and the EU institutions themselves, are not meeting their commitments on official development assistance (ODA). Furthermore, many fail at reaching the investment goal of 0.1 per cent of gross national income to global health set by the World Health Organisation over a decade ago. This goal was set to ensure access to primary healthcare in low income countries.
As a member of parliament's development committee, I believe that we have the obligation to ensure that targets for global health funding are met. I am shocked to see that countries like Germany and France are increasingly making use of loans instead of grants for aid - which many poorer countries will struggle to pay back. Equally shocking is that the EU institutions themselves, despite political commitments in support of health, have been decreasing their aid flows to global health. The research carried out by AfGH shows that at the EU level, health aid as a percentage of ODA decreased from 8.2 per cent to 7.2 per cent between 2007 and 2010.
In addition to my political mandate, I am a voluntary surgeon mainly working in developing countries. I have seen the devastating effects of the funding gap for access to healthcare with people falling into poverty because of out-of-pocket payments, a lack of health professionals to provide services and poor or insufficient provision of medicines and equipment. Cuts within development and global health cannot be the adjustable variable of today's budgetary constraints.
I have personally been involved in trying to safeguard investments in health by tabling the amendment adopted by the development committee in September to earmark 20 per cent of the EU budget's funds for development to health and basic education. I will continue to fight for this in order to reach the millennium development goals (MDGs) on health and secure a better future for the poorest and most vulnerable.
All members of the European parliament certainly acknowledge the financial difficulties faced in varying degrees by all EU members at this time. Achieving the health MDGs is, however, a key objective of EU development policy, as agreed by leaders of all EU member states and one that must be upheld even in times of financial constraints. That is why, as well as urging our member states and EU institutions to maintain ODA for health, I also encourage them to adopt a global financial transaction tax (FTT). This would secure additional revenues, some of which could be earmarked for development, with a percentage going to global health.
This month, our leaders have an opportunity to ensure that disproportionate cuts to development aid, and aid for health, are not made on the EU multiannual budget level, despite some of the worrying trends back home. We should remain ambitious at this time of economic crisis, and we must ensure that the EU maintains its reputation as the world's most generous development actor. My country currently holds the council presidency, and I believe it is absolutely vital that we do not allow for easy compromises. I look forward to presenting this report on Wednesday and taking it back to the development committee thereafter, as we must aim for the best agreement possible in order to deliver on our promises and obligations, both individually and collectively.
Eleni Theocharous is a member of parliament's development committee