Many developed countries and funding agencies are putting the brakes on growth in development assistance for health, which means that developing countries will have an even harder time meeting the Millennium Development Goal deadline in 2015.

That is the conclusion of research from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. It notes that even as aid continued to grow, reaching $27.73 billion in 2011, significant cutbacks in the USA slowed the growth rate in development assistance to 4% between 2010 and 2011, "the slowest rate in a decade".

"Even though we continue to see growth in global health funding through 2011, it is troubling to see so many funders pulling back," said Christopher Murray, IHME director and one of the report's authors. "We are just now beginning to see the impact from the extraordinary growth in global health funding over the past decade. If we give up now, we may lose that momentum".

The study notes that most of the growth in development assistance for health over the past two years came from the World Bank's International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, "which greatly expanded its loans to middle-income countries as the economic crisis worsened in 2009". Health funding through United Nations agencies plateaued in 2011, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria announced last month that it would make no new grants until 2014 due to funding shortfalls. Preliminary estimates indicate that health assistance channelled through the Global Fund declined by $529 million, or 16%, between 2010 and 2011.

It is not all bad news, however, and "even with so many economies in turmoil, we are seeing strong commitments to global health from many countries," said co-author Katie Leach-Kemon. The UK increased its development assistance for health by double digits in 2011, "Germany has started to increase funding again after cutting back, and Norway has consistently been one of the leaders in donating a substantial portion of its budget every year to global health efforts."