Look who's saving the world: BRICS pump up foreign aid
The so-called BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — are upping their foreign assistance by leaps and bounds at a time when traditional donors’ aid budgets are frozen.
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India takes lessons abroad
Take India, for example, which succeeded in eradicating polio in February 2012, just three years after reporting the highest caseload of any country in the world. The country’s success was locally driven: The government poured in $1.49 billion over a decade to inoculate the population and build the local health infrastructure necessary to treat the disease. Now it’s looking to take its experience elsewhere. Over the last three years, India has spent $100 million on health projects overseas, largely focused on building up local medical systems and transferring expertise.Skip to next paragraph
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Brazil provides a similar example with HIV, an area in which it has invested massively both at home and abroad. In 1996, Brazil’s government promised to provide Anti-Retroviral Treatment to all AIDS patients in need of treatment.
“At the time of Brazil’s commitment, many global policymakers doubted the feasibility of providing universal access to ARV treatment in a developing country with limited resources,” the report recounts. “Brazil’s success upended this conventional wisdom, and the program has become a source of great pride. As a result, other developing countries have sought Brazil’s cooperation and counsel on their own HIV/AIDS and ARV policies.”
The example of HIV assistance from Brazil is indicative of the strategy that nearly all BRICS countries favor: Let demand drive aid. Many of Brazil’s HIV programs overseas in African countries were inaugurated at the request of those local governments, not Brasilia’s suggestion.
For recipient governments, there are also advantages to seeking assistance from BRICS countries, rather than traditional donors. “BRICS have recent and continuing experience with responding using limited resources, low cost resources and strategies, and reaching large populations in non-urban settings,” says Venkatapuram.
The Indian health sector has focused innovation on e-health in recent years, for example, providing diagnosis for conditions by remote teleconferencing. Such technologies are geared precisely to the developmental conditions that a country in, say, West Africa might require. And they are systems that the West simply doesn’t have (or need) access to.
Lack of transparency, monitoring
Development aid from the BRICS is not, of course, immune to the challenges that have plagued assistance from the West for decades. Critics note that the development institutions set up in each of the BRICS countries lack the same level of transparency and monitoring that one might find in, for example, the US Agency for International Development.
The BRICS also clearly have their own interests for getting involved overseas. International influence is one motivation, says Eduardo J. Gomez, a professor at Rutgers University who is writing a book on Brazil’s rise and has studied the country’s health programs overseas. “Brazil has always wanted to be with the ‘in crowd,’ if you will, at the international level, always wanting to get involved and influential.”
There are also more direct advantages for the new donors. Brazil’s and India’s global health programs overseas, for example, often draw on local drug industries at home, providing a market for vaccines and generic treatments. China’s international aid has perhaps come under the most scrutiny for being opportunistic, securing access to minerals and other raw materials in exchange for foreign aid. “By helping to improve health in developing countries, Chinese policymakers feel they can have health impact and help build political and economic alliances,” the report argues.
Still, for the large part, the new donors are being welcomed, says Dr. Gomez. “There's is no hostility or jealousy from the traditional donor nations,” he said on Sunday. “My sense is that the world recession has led traditional donor leaders to welcome contributions from Brazil and other nations.”
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