‘The poor always need to do more’

I will take you back about a month ago. I opened up a Ugandan newspaper which had a small article on a children’s hospital which was only a 1.5 kilometer down the road of my hotel. At the hospital 4500 children received anti-retro viral medication to fight off further development of the HIV virus. The article stated there simply was no money to continue this, due to lack of funding.

Last week in Nigeria we had another discussion on division of government health budgets, but also the influence of donors with their priorities. One of the big drivers of funding for HIV/AIDS has been the contribution of countries to the Global Fund on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. I’m sure we can have a debate on the efficiency of this fund, but one of the effects has been that more and more anti-retro virals (ARVs) have become available for people who otherwise would not have access.

From what I’ve heard, being on ARV’s is no picnic. To find the proper balance of the medication to fight the virus in your body, the endless side effects, the constant strain of taking medication at set times, counting out the number of pills when you’re going somewhere etc., is for an adult a serious challenge, let alone a child. Moreover the time you need to invest in people for them to understand the whole process, but also see the progress of the virus, requires constant monitoring. In addition, you should stick to the program for the rest of your life! It’s not some kind of temporary treatment.

Now this is what angers me to the bone. The Dutch government wishes to cut their contribution in half to the Global Fund. Simply by doing that they will deny access to ARVs to people who were on them. What we would never dare to do in our own country, is to take people of life saving medication, is simply decided and sold under a new ‘direction’ in Dutch development policy. And at the same time they claim, that they wish to be a ‘responsible donor’. Last time I heard, pulling the plug on life saving medication and sign somebody’s death certificate with preemptive knowledge, that’s called murder – or maybe friendlier formulated, a contribution to a mass human rights violation. How responsible is that?

I could start quoting numerous things that anger me even more, but let me just state this. In South Africa, a long term activist (started under apartheid) shared with me the following phrase:

“We always want the poor to do more! But when you are poor and busy surviving how on earth will you hold your government responsible for everything they are not doing for you?’

And this is exactly the tone of the new development policy. The terminology stresses a shift from ‘social’ to ‘economic’, from ‘support’ to ‘fend for your own’. And why? Because we should only invest in development for our own national interest. I cannot even believe that I’m reading this, but in other words, let’s only put money towards a country where we actually get something back immediately. This can only lead to one conclusion:

We not only want the poor to do more, they also now need to give more! 

Can I just say from a perspective of one of the richest countries in the world(!), this is the most nihilist, and embarrassing piece of policy they’ve produced in a long time. It spells out political opportunism as the budget for development is probably the easiest item to cut. Simply because they have no back bone to stand up to the Dutch public for spending not even 1% of our Gross National Product on something that doesn’t serve their immediate interest, but in the long run will make lives of people better overall?

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