Fear of population explosion is gripping the country after the United Kingdom (UK) cut by 85 percent its aid towards the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a major financier of reproductive maternal health services in Malawi.
The UNFPA was quoted by international news outlet BBC, saying that the UK had pledged £154 million (K154 billion) for its global projects, but now it will only be handed around £23 million (K23 billion).
The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO), which administers the aid, said in the article published late last month on www.bbc.co.uk, that the temporary reductions in aid spending were vital as the Covid-19 pandemic had badly affected their public finances.
Back home, UNFPA representative Young Hong, in a response to a questionnaire, said the budget cut would lead to a significant reduction of family planning commodities which they supply to the country.
“The funding cut by the FCDO means Malawi will have 50 percent less family planning (FP) commodities available by 2023. The unmet need for FP will likely double from 18 to 36 percent, which may trigger an increase in unplanned pregnancies among adolescents and women,” she said.
Hong said 500 000 babies are born in Malawi annually, but warned that the number could increase following the UK aid cut.
“With normal supply, Malawi is adding approximately half a million babies annually, and 50 percent less family planning supplies will undoubtedly have a serious impact on the population,” she said.
But Hong stated that UNFPA “continues to seek solutions to mitigate negative impacts together with the FCDO and other development partners”.
On its part, the Family Planning Association of Malawi (Fpam) has also expressed concern over the funding cut, which it said will affect Malawi’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
“In any case, we are very concerned over the possibility of a huge cut in the commodities budget globally but more so in Malawi. The FP commodities are the basic infrastructure for the girls and women to exercise their rights and continue their education or life as they wish,” said Fpam communications and advocacy officer Faith Kadzanja.
In response to a questionnaire Wednesday last week, she added that the aid cut should push Malawi government to start injecting more resources into SHRH programmes.
“In Malawi, the UK and the United States governments are financing almost 90 percent of the commodity procurement. It is high time government increased funding towards reproductive health services, including procurement of FP commodities from locally generally revenue to avoid service interruption as might be the case with this UK foreign aid cut,” said Kadzanja.
Revelations about the UNFPA aid cut comes after the UK government announced that it would cut aid spending from 0.7 percent of its national income to 0.5 percent.
Meanwhile, the British High Commission to Malawi, in a response to a questionnaire, has assured the country that the aid cut is just temporary.
The commission’s head of political section, Matthew Halksworth, said: “As announced last year, the impact of the global pandemic on the UK economy has forced us to take the tough but necessary decision to temporarily reduce how much we spend on Official Development Assistance (ODA).
“We will temporarily move to a target of spending 0.5 percent of gross national income on ODA, rather than 0.7 percent. This is a temporary measure and we will return to 0.7 percent when the fiscal situation allows.”
Ministry of Health did not respond to our questionnaire as to how it would cover up for the donor aid cut, which the Parliamentary Committee on Health fears will create a crisis.
Said the committee’s chairperson Matthews Ngwale, in an interview last Friday: “What the funding cut means is that there will be pressure on the health budget as some funds will be redirected towards reproductive health services to cover up for the reduced donor aid there.”
He said this was a wake-up call for the country to strategise on self-financing of the public health sector.
“Our healthcare depends on 70 percent donor aid and 30 percent from domestic revenue. We cannot continue relying on someone who does not live here. What if they withdrawal?
“Time has come for Malawi to buy the proposal this committee put forward that every working Malawi should be contributing at least K1 000 towards a health fund. We can raise billions of kwacha through that arrangement. The sad thing is that we always face stiff opposition when we are advocating for this,” said Ngwale.