Forthcoming review: DHSC’s aid-funded global health research and innovation

26 Feb 2024

The COVID-19 pandemic and race to develop a vaccine brought health research to the top of the international agenda, and in recent years it has become more central to UK aid’s strategic priorities.

A forthcoming review from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) will look at aid spent by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) in this area, which aims to improve health outcomes, health security and equity with benefits for low- and middle-income countries.

This funding supports the UK’s contribution to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) three and nine: good health and wellbeing; and industry, innovation and infrastructure.

The UK has championed global health research dating back to the ‘tropical medicine’ centres of the 19th century, evolving to focus more recently on global health security, and science and technology leadership.

Until 2015, the area was funded by the then Department for International Development (DFID). That year, DHSC received its first allocation of Official Development Assistance (ODA) for research through the 2015 spending review. The UK’s 2015 aid strategy referenced global health initiatives including the UK Vaccine Network and the Global Antimicrobial Resistance Innovation Fund.

The 2014-16 Ebola epidemic in West Africa and later the COVID-19 pandemic intensified health security concerns across the UK government. At the onset of COVID-19, DHSC’s aid-funded budget for research grew, even when the overall UK ODA budget was effectively cut by 29%, as it was diverted to support asylum seekers and refugees in the UK.

This review will be the aid watchdog’s first to focus on global health research, and the first to look solely at aid spent by DHSC. It will build on previous ICAI reports such as the 2018 review of the UK’s response to global health threats.

The review will ask the following questions:

  1. Relevance: How relevant is DHSC’s ODA-funded global health research portfolio to the UK’s strategic objectives on global health?
  2. Effectiveness: How effectively does DHSC’s ODA-funded research contribute to improving global health outcomes?
  3. Learning: Has the design of DHSC’s research portfolio been informed by its own monitoring, evaluation and learning, and by lessons from other ODA-funded health research?

The publication is expected in June 2024.

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