The United Kingdom is shifting priorities and funds away from women’s health care and essential services, using the Covid-19 pandemic as cover.
That’s devastating news for women and girls in underserved areas around the world—the U.K. intends to pull approximately 80-85% of aid to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the reproductive health arm of the UN and the world’s largest contraception provider.
More than 150 countries rely on help from UNFPA for reproductive services, including birth control, maternal care, abortion care and more. The U.K.’s contribution to UNFPA is now reduced to $32 million, a significant decrease from the original $211 million. The aid would have been utilized to prevent 250,000 maternal and child deaths, 14.6 million unintended pregnancies and 4.3 million unsafe abortions, according to estimates provided by UNFPA.
“UNFPA recognizes the challenging situation facing many donor governments, yet deeply regrets the decision of our longstanding partner and advocate to step away from its commitments at a time when inequalities are deepening, and international solidarity is needed more than ever,” UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem, MD MPH, said in a statement.
Citing the pandemic as the reason for the cuts in aid, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the public “will understand,” as reported by the Evening Standard.
“We are still one of the biggest donors in the world, and I think people in this country should be very proud of that,” Johnson said. “But I also think that they will understand, and I know that other countries around the world understand, the particular pressures of the pandemic that mean we have to economize in that way.”
After several years of pulling aid from UNFPA under the Trump administration, the Biden administration affirmed commitment to return as a 2021 donor to UNFPA by providing $32.5 million in funds. The U.S. was the largest contributor in 2016 under the Obama administration, allowing for UNFPA to provide life-saving assistance through 481 mobile health clinics, more than 2,400 obstetric care facilities and 485 safe spaces for women to break free from gender-based violence.
“The truth is that when funding stops, women and girls suffer, especially the poor, those living in remote, underserved communities and those living through humanitarian crises,” UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem, MD MPH, said in a statement.