News and analysis
November 30, 2010

Private Aid for Global Health-Care Efforts Dropped as the Economy Soured

American charities that provide health care to poor people overseas have been hit hard by the recession, according to a study released Tuesday.

Cash gifts from private donors for nonprofits’ global health work dropped by 33 percent from 2008 to 2010, according to the study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, in Seattle. Corporate donations of medicines and equipment dropped by 59 percent in that time, although the decrease was due in part to a new method the researchers used to measure the value of products.

The American government’s support of global-health charities increased but only by 1 percent.

Over all, the amount of money channeled through U.S. charities to health programs overseas fell from a high of $3.1-billion in 2008 to $2.16-billion this year.

But that drop comes after years and years of increases. In 1990 government and private support of U.S. global health charities totaled just $520-million; 10 years ago, that number was $1.32-billion.

Concerns About Potential Losses in Government Aid

Foundations—and not just the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—have helped to drive that increase. Money from other U.S. foundations for charities’ global-health work grew by 366 percent from 1990 to 2010, to $542.78-million, belying concerns that the Gates money would dissuade other donors from giving to global health.

“There isn’t a crowding out of other philanthropies by the Gates foundation,” said Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which gets much of its money from the Gates fund. “The increasing attention has led to an expansion of funding by governments and other philanthropies.”

While the report found that gifts from private sources dropped because of the recession, many governments, including the United States, still increased their giving to global health this year. But Mr. Murray warned that the next few years could show a gloomier picture.

“There will be pressure for deficit reduction,” he said. “How global-health funding fares specifically is hard to forecast.”

He noted, though, that the British government has increased its support of foreign aid (a portion of which will go to health programs in poor countries) even as it has slashed its domestic spending.