Aid watchdog reprimands DfID for inflating maternal health success

31 Oct 18

The UK may have exaggerated the number of women’s lives saved through its maternal health and family planning programmes, an aid watchdog has claimed.

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact said in a review yesterday that the UK Department for International Development had failed to generate “lasting impacts” with its projects overseas.

In 2010, DfID set a goal of saving 50,000 women’s lives during pregnancy and childbirth by 2015. By the end of the period, DfID claimed it had saved over 100,000 women – more than double the target.

But ICAI said it was unable to confirm this claim because of “shortcomings in the way [the department] estimated the impacts of its programmes”. It looked at two case studies in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Malawi, but funds activities focused on maternal health in a range of other places.

In an internal unpublished DfID review, the figure was revised down to 80,100, ICAI highlighted.

During the five-year period, DfID spent £4.6bn on reproductive, neonatal and child health projects, of which £1.3bn was specifically related to family planning, reproductive health care and maternal health.

ICAI’s review added that the department relied on “unrealistic assumptions” to reach the results figures.

The watchdog gave the UK an amber red rating for its work on family planning and maternal health – which is the second worst in the colour-coded system. ICAI described the rating as an “unsatisfactory achievement in most areas, with some positive elements”.

It also said DfID’s work was not balanced across family planning, health services and other interventions, which would “maximise impact in the medium and long term”.

It claimed that the money was focused on achieving short-term goals.

“In the face of severe shortages of skilled personnel, equipment and supplies, DfID has struggled to raise service quality to the extent needed to improve maternal health outcomes,” the review said.

It recommended that the department “clarify its approach to health system strengthening”, design and monitor programmes to target adolescents and poor women and puts resources into tracking maternal health data.

DfID disputes the report, which is says does not have a big enough sample size. It also claims that ICAI did not take into account work beyond 2015.

Responding to the findings, a DfID spokesperson said: “It is disappointing the report has made some generalisations from a selected portion of our programming and also does not fully reflect the full impact of our work, especially in recent years.”

“The UK is a global leader on supporting sexual and reproductive health and women’s rights and thanks to UK aid, millions more women now have access to contraception.”

DfID will publish a written response to the report in the coming months.

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