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Budget cuts disrupt health services in South Asia

The funding cut by the UK government comes just five months after US President Joe Biden repealed the Global Gag Rule                                                                                     

UK govt’s decision to cut the aid budget comes as a double whammy for countries in the South Asia region, where the public health system is under stress due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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The funding cut by the UK government comes just five months after US President Joe Biden repealed the Global Gag Rule, which was reinstated by former President Donald Trump in 2017. The global gag rule had pushed organisations like IPPF and its Member Associations to scale down the life-saving abortion services, contraception, maternal health, and HIV prevention and treatment services.

The significant loss of funding for the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF, a federation of 141 Family Planning Associations across the world) – totalling around £72 million (approximately $100 million) – has meant massive reductions to the sexual and reproductive health services to young people and mainly vulnerable women globally.

In South Asia, UK funding supported the flagship WISH (Women’s Integrated Sexual Health) programme. This initiative delivered life-saving contraception and sexual and reproductive health services for thousands of women and girls in some of the world’s poorest and most marginalised communities, including Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

The cuts also mean the closure of the ACCESS programme, which provided an evidence-based response to the specific sexual and reproductive health needs of marginalised communities. It was designed to work specifically in complex and challenging environments, including humanitarian settings in Nepal, Lebanon, Mozambique, and Uganda and was only six months into its implementation. ACCESS was designed to work alongside WISH to ensure that no one is left behind.

The funding cut will impact the sexual and reproductive rights of around 5.9 million people in Pakistan in the next two years (2022-23). The discontinuation of funding by the end of this year is estimated to result in:

  • 696,280 unintended pregnancies
  • 1,188 maternal deaths and
  • 76,366 unsafe abortions across Pakistan

Syed Kamal Shah, CEO, Rahnuma-Family Planning Association of Pakistan, said, “This funding cut has significantly impacted IPPF and will affect the sexual and reproductive rights of millions of people in Pakistan in the next two years (2022-23), resulting in hundreds of thousands of unintended pregnancies, thousands of unsafe abortions and over a thousand maternal deaths – it is a betrayal to women and girls across Pakistan. Most private and public health centres were not operating during the pandemic, but we were able to continue providing sexual and reproductive health services due to the funding support, this cut will make it impossible to respond if we face another wave.”

Family Planning Association of Nepal, another affected organization estimates that more than 120,000 people from marginalised and vulnerable communities in disaster-affected areas would be impacted by the termination of the ACCESS programme. Around 35 full-time staff and 100 part-time staff will also lose their job due to the cuts.

Branch Manager at Family Planning Association of Nepal said, “ACCESS was a ray of hope during this difficult situation [the global pandemic]. This comes at a time when most sexual and reproductive health indicators (maternal mortality rates to unmet contraceptive needs) are on the decline, and people are being deprived of health services. Turning our backs during this pandemic, when communities are in dire need of health services, is not only cruel but also against the core values of being a healthcare provider.”

Sonal Mehta, IPPF Regional Director at South Asia Regional Office, criticised the move of FCDO (UK government) by highlighting donor accountability, “Our partners in the region had just started recovering after the US government’s decision to repeal the Global Gag rule, but UK 

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