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UK aid cuts will put tens of thousands of children at risk of famine, says charity | Global development

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Britain is set to spend 80% less on helping feed children in poorer nations than before the pandemic, according to a charity’s analysis.

Save the Children said the British government will spend less than £26m this year on vital nutrition services in developing countries, a drop of more than three-quarters from 2019. The estimate of aid cuts to nutrition comes after UN agencies called for urgent action to avert famine in 20 countries including Yemen, South Sudan and northern Nigeria.

The charity said the cuts will leave tens of thousands of children hungry and at risk of starvation. Malnutrition affects lifelong development and contributes to half of all the world’s child deaths.

The G7, whose foreign and development ministers met this week in London, published a famine prevention and humanitarian crises compact – a call to action in recognition of the situation.

The Global Report on Food Crisis, published this week, showed the number of people in need of urgent support was the highest in the report’s five-year history, and that 155 million people are facing food shortages.

Save the Children’s analysis, which applied confirmed aid cuts in Africa and Asia to funding for basic nutrition programmes, combined with known cuts to nutrition funding in other countries, suggests UK assistance here may be cut in half from 2019. In humanitarian settings, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) funding to nutrition was £396m in 2019 and estimated to be £218m in 2021, a 45% cut. UK aid funding to basic nutrition was £122m in 2019, £111m in 2020 and £26m in 2021, an 80% cut, it said.

Pandemic-related increases in malnutrition could result in 4.4 million years in lost education, it said.

Kirsty McNeill, executive director at Save the Children UK, described the UK’s aid strategy as “incoherent and inconsistent”.

“We are looking at the near-collapse of British help for hungry children in some of the world’s poorest and most dangerous countries, including Yemen, Somalia, and Sudan. Ending preventable child deaths will never be achieved when we ignore the role prolonged malnutrition plays in the development of a child and their future quality of life.”

Students water plants at Save the Children’s vocational training centre in South Sudan.
Students water plants at Save the Children’s vocational training centre in South Sudan. The charity estimates that pandemic-related increases in malnutrition could result in 4.4 million years in lost education. Photograph: Hanna Adcock/Save the Children

The Power of Nutrition, a foundation set up to tackle underfunding, said the FCDO had reduced its funding by 57%, from £7m to £3m.

Simon Bishop, the foundation’s CEO and former special adviser to Justine Greening when she was international development secretary, said it “simply isn’t credible” for Britain to claim global leadership in tackling hunger while slashing aid.

“People see right through it,” he said. “It amounts to ‘hollow’ global Britain – a slogan with nothing tangible behind it. What makes this so sad and self-defeating is that Britain has been a genuine global leader in this area for the last decade, saving lives and getting huge soft power from doing it. That’s all now rapidly disappearing down the drain.”

Britain announced last year it would slash aid funding from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%. The cuts are not split evenly, with some programmes having funding reduced by up to 85%.

On Wednesday, the Tropical Health and Education Trust (THET) revealed the government has cut £48m in funding for global health training. One programme affected is the UK Partnerships for Health Systems set up by THET and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, to enable NHS staff to train 78,000 healthcare professionals in low and lower-middle income countries.

This week, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said the government had cut 75% of its funding for Syria, where more than 12 million people have been displaced by conflict, resulting in an immediate end to projects supporting tens of thousands.

The organisation said it was particularly concerned about women and girls living in camps in north Syria who will no longer have access to safe spaces or services.

IRC, which provides water, shelter, healthcare, education and empowerment programmes for displaced people in more than 40 countries, said funding for its protection and legal work for vulnerable Syrians in Lebanon has been completely cut.

The organisation is waiting to hear from Whitehall but it fears it will lose at least 60% of UK funding for work in north-east Nigeria, and a similar cut to health programmes in Sierra Leone. Its staff are redesigning programmes.

Melanie Ward, executive director for IRC UK, said: “It is deeply troubling that lifesaving services are being lost as part of these cuts. And the manner in which they are being carried out has made things even harder. We are more than a month into the financial year and still without clarity on how the cuts will fall at a country level.

“The lack of consultation, failure to set or stick to timelines, absence of criteria for decision-making and overall lack of transparency is hitting the aid sector hard, at a time of rising humanitarian need.”

The FCDO has said it will still spend £10bn on aid this year and re-issued a statement given to previous articles on the aid cuts: “The seismic impact of the pandemic on the UK economy has forced us to take tough but necessary decisions, including temporarily reducing the overall amount we spend on aid.”

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UK Pharmacists Warn Medicine Shortages Put Patients at Risk

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The issue first came to the fore in April, when shortages of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs resulted in an outcry, with doctors warning that some women will resort to unorthodox methods to get the medication they need.

British pharmacists have expressed concern over medicine shortages in the UK, which they believe put patients at risk, a new poll has revealed.

A survey of 1,562 UK pharmacists for the Pharmaceutical Journal found that more than 54% of respondents said that patients had been put at risk in the last six months due to drug shortages.

The outlet cited an unnamed pharmacist from a children’s hospital in England as saying that problems pertaining to variable supply of nutritional products may pose threat to patients’ health.

“We had to ration it, and this has potentially put patients at risk of vitamin deficiencies,” the pharmacist pointed out.

A member of the London Ambulance Service (File) - Sputnik International, 1920, 25.07.2022

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They were echoed by another hospital pharmacist, who voiced alarm about drugs being unavailable at the end of a patient’s life.

“There was no alternative for one patient who had to deal with an additional symptom in his last days of life due to lack of available treatment,” the source told the Pharmaceutical Journal.

The same tone was struck by Mike Dent, director of pharmacy funding at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, who said in an interview with the journal that they are “becoming increasingly concerned about medicine supply issues and the very serious impact this is having on both community pharmacy teams and their patients.”

A spokesperson for the UK Department of Health and Social Care, in turn, stressed that they “take patient safety extremely seriously, and […] routinely share information about medicine supply issues directly with the NHS [National Health Service] so they can put plans in place to reduce the risk of any shortage impacting patients, including offering alternative medication.”

“We have well-established procedures to deal with medicine shortages and work closely with industry, the NHS and others to prevent shortages and resolve any issues as soon as possible,” the spokesperson added.

The remarks followed the UK government issuing a number of “medicine supply notifications,” which highlight shortages of a whole array of key drugs, including live­-saving ones such as antibiotics, insulin and antidepressants.

A veteran wearing a Royal Hospital Chelsea hat, and in PPE (personal protective equipment) of a face mask, as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, stands outside the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London  - Sputnik International, 1920, 08.08.2022

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The issue first came to light at the end of April 2022, when a shortage of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medication left some women in the UK sharing prescriptions and feeling suicidal. HRT is used to relieve most symptoms of menopause and it works by replacing hormones that are at a lower level.

According to the UK newspaper Express, drug shortages “are being caused by a shortage of raw ingredients used to manufacture medicines. These are often supplied by countries in the Far East. There are also rising costs set by pharmaceutical manufacturers and wholesalers.”



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Cannabis: Canada to spend $200 million on medical marijuana for veterans | International

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The Canadian government is on track to spend CA$200 million (around $154 million) on medical marijuana for veterans, an increase of 30% compared to 2021 and 135% compared to 2019. Since 2008, Canada’s Veteran Affairs has been reimbursing former military personnel for what they spend on medically prescribed marijuana.

Canada legalized recreational cannabis in October 2018 (the second country to make such a regulatory change after Uruguay). The government of Justin Trudeau justified the measure as a move to fight organized crime and ensure the safety of consumers. Marijuana for medicinal use, however, has been legal in Canada since 2001. The Canadian Health Ministry backed its decision on the grounds that studies show it can be beneficial for patients who suffer from problems such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

In 2008, after overcoming various legal disputes, Veteran Affairs approved a measure to reimburse war veterans for the cost of medicinal marijuana, although reimbursements were to be decided on a case-by-case basis. In 2011, the authorities simplified the procedure to make it accessible to more candidates. That year, 37 people were reimbursed for a total amount of CA$103,400 (81,000). In November 2016, the ministry modified its compensation rules, reducing the daily limit from 10 grams a day to three. The current maximum rate for refunds is $8.50 per gram.

Veteran Affairs stated that medical cannabis is “a developing area of treatment,” and it will continue to review information and “adjust the policy as necessary to guarantee the welfare of veterans and their families.” A Canadian Senate commission called for such a review in 2019, emphasizing the positive results of cannabis for therapeutic purposes, in particular as an effective substitute for highly addictive opioids against chronic pain. Senators also said that the maximum price needs to be constantly evaluated, as costs may exceed what some veterans can afford.

According to the latest data, some 18,000 ex-combatants were reimbursed for medicinal marijuana in 2021, which equated to CA$153 million ($118 million) in federal spending. While experts largely support the plan for veterans, they say it should be accompanied by psychosocial support, especially in cases of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Campaigners call on UN Women to pull out of BlackRock partnership | Women’s rights and gender equality

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The UN agency responsible for promoting gender equality is being urged to pull out of a partnership with BlackRock, the world’s biggest investment fund manager, over the company’s “record of prioritising profits over human rights or environmental integrity”.

Hundreds of women’s organisations and activists have written to UN Women demanding it rescind the partnership.

The letter, sent on Tuesday to Sima Sami Bahous, UN Women’s executive director, and her two deputies, Åsa Regnér and Anita Bhatia, said the partnership “gives BlackRock a veneer of feminist approval that it clearly does not merit”.

While details of the collaboration have not been made public, BlackRock published a statement on its website in May saying it had signed “a memorandum of understanding” with the UN agency “agreeing to cooperate in promoting the growth of gender lens investing”.

BlackRock has faced pressure from environmental activists to improve its climate action policies, given its vast holdings in fossil fuel companies, and wide global reach.

The asset manager has investments in some of the world’s largest weapons sales companies, the letter said, noting that BlackRock is “consistently” ranked among the worst performers on corporate accountability by civil society watchdogs.

From left to right: Pam Chan of BlackRock, UN Women representative Anita Bhatia and Isabelle Mateos y Lago of BlackRock at Davos this year.
From left to right: Pam Chan of BlackRock, UN Women representative Anita Bhatia and Isabelle Mateos y Lago of BlackRock at Davos this year. Photograph: UN Photo

The letter, signed by almost 600 groups and individuals, said BlackRock also holds large amounts of debt in Zambia and Sri Lanka. It was among the private sector lenders that refused to delay debt interest payments to prevent Zambia’s finances from collapsing. The country has had to cut health and social care spending by a fifth in the past two years to balance its budget, cuts that have disproportionately affected women and marginalised groups.

Sanam Amin, a Bangladeshi academic and activist, said: “We want this agreement to be rescinded. This will not have a positive outcome for UN Women or the feminist organisations it is working with.”

She said BlackRock was using UN Women for bluewashing and pinkwashing purposes, and that it was “a fantasy” to imagine that “gender-impact investment can keep investment bankers rich and also save the world”.

“This is an illusion and relies on the labour and resources of marginalised communities in a gendered fashion, in the global south and across global supply chains.”

This is not the first time UN Women has been criticised for partnering with the private sector. In 2015, after pressure from women’s groups, the organisation backed out of a deal with Uber to encourage 1 million women to sign up as drivers.

Emilia Reyes, a feminist activist, said a lack of money was driving the UN into partnerships with the private sector. “We are calling for member states to fulfil their commitments on funding for UN departments as a whole,” she said. “In the search for extra funding, [UN bodies] are undermining their mandate and pushing conflicts of interest inside the UN.”

A spokesperson for UN Women said it “understands the concerns of its civil society partners”, which “merit consideration”. They said the partnership had been “put on hold”.

BlackRock said the money it managed belonged to its clients, many of whom made their own investment decisions. It added: “We highly value UN Women’s leadership in advancing women’s empowerment around the world and respect their decision to put the agreement on hold while they review their strategy for private sector partnerships.”

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