Produced by David Lalloo (Director of Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine) and other UK university colleagues
“Ensuring sustained UK government investment in global health research and development (R&D), in the face of cuts to the UK’s development assistance budget, is a smart choice. While it represents a relatively small amount of funding, when compared to other government public expenditures, it delivers a high return on investment.”
The UK government has committed to scaling-up its public investment in R&D from £14.8 billion in 2021/22 to £20 billion in 2024/251 in recognition that ‘’we have a ‘once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen our global position in research, unleash a new wave of innovation, enhance our national security and revitalise our international ties”.
As part of this commitment, it is recommended that the UK government use some of these additional resources to sustain its public investment in global health R&D in light of the budget threats posed to the sector, by recent cuts to the UK’s official development assistance (ODA).
The UK government has in the past been a generous investor in global
health R&D. In 2019, the UK government allocated just under £1bn of its
official development assistance (ODA) budget to research and development (£953mn).
Over one-third of this – £354mn – was exclusively for medical
research and development4, though the likely amount is higher than this, when multi-disciplinary research is taken into account.
This funding has helped to make the UK a world leader on global health
R&D. The UK was the second largest public investor in the world in 2019 in global health R&D, according to Policy Cures Research’s G-FINDER data, behind the USA which provided the lion’s share of funding in recognition of the high return on investment.
The decision by the UK government to reduce its ODA budget from 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) to 0.5% in 2021, threatens public funding to global health R&D for years to come.
The reduction in the budget represents a £4.4 bn (US5.6 billion) decrease in UK ODA budget for 2021/22 when compared to what the UK would have provided in the same year if it had allocated 0.7% of its GNI as ODA.
UK R&D ODA will fall to £600 mn in 2021/22 and while it is commendable that the UK government has committed to rescale this back up to £1 billion by 2024/25 there will be a considerable shortfall in R&D ODA funding between 2021- 2024 UKRI spending for 2021/22 is £700 mn less than in 2020 and it is being reported that the single biggest reason for this is the cut to the UK ODA budget.
Ensuring sustained UK government investment in global health R&D, in the face of the ODA budget cuts, is a smart choice. While it represents a relatively small amount of funding, when compared to other government public expenditures, it delivers a high return on investment.
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