UK Government cuts will undo decades of progress for women and girls – everywhere

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By Jennifer Pope, Vice President, Sexual and Reproductive Health, HIV and TB, PSI 

The UK government’s recently announced cuts to overseas aid spending are worse than any of us could have imagined. Put simply: they endanger the health and lives of vulnerable women and girls worldwide. We join our many partners in calling for these dangerous cuts to be restored.

The announced £5billion reduction to the UK aid spending comes at a time when the global pandemic has exposed the fragility of health systems. Long before COVID-19, overstretched health systems were plagued by understaffing, stock-outs, poor infrastructure and lack of resources. The pandemic has both magnified these issues while further exacerbating inequities, particularly for women and girls.

We are concerned by the impact of the UK Government’s decision on consumers, many of whom currently rely on UK-funded health initiatives, including sexual and reproductive health (SRH) programs implemented by PSI.

We estimate that UK aid cuts will result in a 90 percent reduction in UK-funded, SRH services delivered by PSI and our partners by the end of 2022. In certain contexts, this translates into (immediate) program closures or – in best case scenarios – sharp reductions, as we’re already seeing across PSI programs in Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Somaliland and Pakistan. The repercussions run deep: millions of women and girls will not have access to SRH information, products and services, resulting in unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and maternal deaths. We know from experience that this will disproportionately affect marginalized populations, particularly adolescents and youth. The UK is abandoning these women and girls at a time when they and their communities are most vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19.

Additionally, UK government cuts to UNFPA funding by 85 percent will further affect countries that rely on UNFPA’s support, including critical SRH commodities. 

The consequences of this decision are far reaching.

Women and girls’ needs do not pause for a pandemic, nor will they wait for the next round of available funding. In the meantime, decades of progress will be undone, and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals will be made even more challenging. The implications will cascade across families, communities, countries – and reverses the work we, the public health community and governments together, have made toward universal health coverage.

While we recognize the challenging financial situation currently facing governments, the needs of women and girls have never been greater. We’ve seen the tremendous advances we can make with investments that pave pathways to care, adapted to the ever-changing realities on the ground. Amidst COVID-19, advancements in and support for self-care have brought the power of choice into consumers’ hands.

For women and girls everywhere, we cannot stop here. Meeting the needs of consumers today while building stronger and more resilient health systems for the long term makes both health and economic sense.

We join our partners in calling on the UK and donors to see the faces behind the numbers; the individuals – the women, girls and entire communities – who will be directly affected by these damaging cuts. To the young girl with bold dreams or the first-time mother, the decisions we make today will determine whether she has the right to the health choices that will define the rest of her life.

When we invest in pathways rather than deepen roadblocks, health systems and individual consumers are better for it. We’ve come too far to turn back now.

Banner photo credit: Miguel Samper-

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