Can foreign aid improve conditions in the developing world? The debate continues as even commentators like the NY Times’ Nicholas Kristof can’t find data to support either side. What few argue, however, is the impact aid dollars have had on health care in the third world. Literally millions of lives have been saved as a direct result of foreign aid programs of that type.
The Center for Global Development reports that routine childhood immunizations funded by aid has nearly eradicated measles as a cause of childhood death in seven African countries since 1996. Some 18 million children have been saved from river blindness since a regional control program for the disease was launched in 1974 in West Africa. Infant deaths due to diarrhea in rural Egypt fell 82% as a result of an aid-financed national campaign on oral rehydration therapy.
Progress has been made in the fight against malaria, too, as well as HIV/AIDS, although these pandemics are far from over. Not surprisingly, the greatest gains have come in relatively peaceful, stable countries like Zambia, Uganda, and Botswana, where secure, reliable delivery systems have been developed to accompany the medications, supplies, and education that make the programs work. Scandals have rocked some efforts, but strong public support for governments willing to crack down on the perpetrators has kept efforts on track.
We may never know if the IMF’s macro economic approach is better than Grameen Bank’s micro finance operations, but we do know that foreign aid directed to solving regional health programs can be successful.