Government turned its back on the international community by cutting foreign aid – today MPs must reverse that
Our ambition to improve the mental health of people in low-income countries will be undermined by the government unless they reverse the decision to renege on their promise to spend 0.7% on international aid.
The pandemic has caused untold physical and mental harm to people of all races in every corner of the world. Continents, nations, islands, and territories will be dealing with the mental health consequences of Covid-19 for years to come. But during a time of great global upheaval the government has turned its back on the international community by cutting the overseas aid budget.
Tens of thousands of people in low-income countries will miss out on vital mental health support and unless the decision is reversed, opportunities to enable these countries to better support themselves in the future will be lost.
Mental health treatment in low-income countries was poor even before the start of the pandemic. Three quarters of people with a mental disorder don’t receive any mental health care whatsoever, while a fifth of those living in areas of conflict will have a mental health condition. Add to this the impact of the pandemic and it’s easy to see why low-income countries need our support more than ever before.
Many will not have their urgent medical needs met, with drastic long-term implications for them and their communities
The World Health Organisation estimate that Covid-19 has disrupted or even halted mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide. Services in the UK have seen a large increase in the number of people seeking help and waiting lists have grown substantially. Our mental health services are working hard to get everyone the treatment they need, but the efforts of our colleagues around the world are undermined by the government’s decision to renege on its promise to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid. Their patients are left paying the price.
Healthcare provision in low-income countries is already being affected by the £4 billion of cuts. In just one example, the work of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Myanmar, Uganda, Somalia, and Ghana isn’t happening meaning these countries won’t benefit from the 78,000 health workers that were due to be trained through the UK Partnerships for Health Systems Program.
Further work in Uganda would have trained mental health professionals in two regions where there are fewer than 10 medical doctors per 100,000 people. The programme would have improved health outcomes for vulnerable communities and reduced the burden of mental illness, neurological conditions and substance misuse in West Nile and Southwest Uganda. Instead, many Ugandans will not have their urgent medical needs met, with drastic long-term implications for them and their communities.
The decision to cut aid is short-sighted and fails to recognise the longer-term effects it’ll have on these countries. Not only does it mean they’ll lack the human resources they need to deliver mental health care, it also means they won’t be equipped to become self-reliant by having a workforce that’s able to train the next generation of mental health professionals. A smaller workforce now means an even smaller workforce in the future, leaving many more people living with an untreated mental illness.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ commitment to deliver high quality mental health support and to prevent mental illness doesn’t stop at the UK’s borders. But our ambition to improve the mental health of people in low-income countries will be undermined by the government unless they reverse their decision to renege on their promise to spend 0.7% of GNI on international aid. I urge MPs to use the opportunity they have today and vote to reinstate spending to 0.7%. People living in low-income countries are depending on them.
Dr Adrian James is the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
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