Dead Aid: Dead Wrong

Ben Hubbard is Chief of Staff at ONE, a global advocacy and campaigning organization dedicated to fighting extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.

dambisa.gif It’s hard keeping up with the avalanche of inaccuracies and misinformation coming from Dambisa Moyo, the Zambian-born banker turned aid critic and now author of “Dead Aid.” You can see the growing catalogue that ONE has compiled here.

Yesterday, we caught wind of a Q and A she did with Fast Company magazine where she confirmed what we’ve long suspected: that Moyo has little understanding of the health and poverty fighting programs she routinely criticizes. This time it was PEPFAR, the US anti-AIDS program, which has put over 2 million Africans on life-saving treatment. Here’s what she had to say:

Let’s talk about Pepfar. They’ve increased it to $30 billion for 15 countries. Say every country roughly gets $2 billion. Zambia has 10 million people, so that’s roughly $200 a person. That’s approximately the per-capita income of Zambia — you’re roughly doubling the per capita income. But that has had no meaningful impact on the health sector. $2 billion and you can’t overhaul the system? That seems to me completely absurd. African governments have completely abdicated their responsibility.

If Ms. Moyo had any basic knowledge of the program – or had done a simple Google search — she’d know that last summer the U.S. Congress approved $39 billion in funding over five years for HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis programs under both PEPFAR and the Geneva-based Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. Together, these two programs fund projects in over 137 countries.

PEPFAR is not a perfect program and its supporters have historically been its loudest critics, but no one with any basic knowledge of the program would doubt its groundbreaking (and lifesaving) achievements in just five years. By the end of 2008, PEPFAR was supporting treatment for more than 2 million people in Africa; care for more than 10 million people with HIV worldwide, including more than 4 million orphans and vulnerable children; and providing antiretroviral treatment for pregnant women, allowing nearly 240,000 infants to be born HIV free.

Furthermore, consider that just 10 years ago it cost $10,000 per person per year to treat a patient with AIDS. Treatment is now available for $140 per person per year, a breathtaking improvement in efficiency.

Moyo goes on to say that only a fifth of PEPFAR money reaches the ground.

The dollar amount [of PEPFAR] that hits the individual is 20 cents on the dollar if you’re lucky.

We tend to agree with Ms. Moyo that not enough aid money is hitting the ground, but her suggestion that only 20 cents on the dollar in PEPFAR money is hitting the ground has no basis that we are aware of. We challenge Ms. Moyo to provide evidence of her assertion. Where is the evidence? Rather than making up numbers and misleading the public, we wish Ms Moyo would join us in supporting the new aid transparency initiative we’re backing called Publish What You Fund.

Moyo’s comments would be laughable if the subject matter wasn’t AIDS and the question wasn’t whether the United States and others should continue these successful, life saving programs.