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[LONDON] The United Kingdom signalled a shift in its aid ideology with the launch of the Department for International Development's new health strategy, launched this week (5 June) in London.

Strengthening health systems and better coordination of aid are strong themes in the new strategy, as a way of accelerating progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and a reduction in the burden of ill-health in poor countries.

Aid is not achieving enough, because of poor harmonisation between donors and weak delivery systems, said Hilary Benn, secretary of state for international development.

The Department for International Development (DFID) aims to promote better management, strengthen data collection and invest in human resources in the countries it funds.

Key to the proposals is a new model of longer-term, reliable aid commitments.

This will allow for sustained knowledge transfer so that governments can train and recruit medical staff, give prolonged access to medicines, and build capacity in research and development.

Benn also noted the need for better support for basic health care, not just specific problems, citing the example of US$90 million in funding for HIV/AIDS versus US$2 million for basic services in Rwanda.

DFID will continue to contribute to projects for specific causes, such as the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, but will move to tackle health as a set of interrelated issues.

Speaking at the launch, Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund, said that countries themselves must be responsible for a holistic approach to the expansion of basic health services. 

The efficiency of aid also comes under close scrutiny in the new policy.

DFID aims to make its investments cost-effective and evidence-based, but the strategy is not specific as to how aid will be streamlined and coordination between donors achieved.

"More money is available than ever before, but much of it is wasted. By not working together we risk devaluing what we are doing," said Joy Phumaphi, vice president for human development at the World Bank, at the launch.

"We currently have the perfect environment in which to not deliver," said Margaret Chan, World Health Organization (WHO) director general.

"But DFID's strategy is a powerful new model for development systems, with implications for the work of the WHO," she added.