Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Where did all the aid go? An in-depth analysis of increased health aid flows over the past 10 years

Paolo Piva & Rebecca Dodd


To examine how health aid is spent and channelled, including the distribution of resources across countries and between subsectors. Our aim was to complement the many qualitative critiques of health aid with a quantitative review and to provide insights on the level of development assistance available to recipient countries to address their health and health development needs.


We carried out a quantitative analysis of data from the Aggregate Aid Statistics and Creditor Reporting System databases of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which are the most reliable sources of data on official development assistance (ODA) for health from all traditional bilateral and multilateral sources and from partnerships such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.


The analysis shows that while health ODA is rising and capturing a larger share of total ODA, there are significant imbalances in the allocation of health aid which run counter to internationally recognized principles of “effective aid”. Countries with comparable levels of poverty and health need receive remarkably different levels of aid. Funding for Millennium Development Goal 6 (combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases) accounts for much of the recent increase in health ODA, while many other health priorities remain insufficiently funded. Aid is highly fragmented at country level, which entails high transaction costs, divergence from national policies and lack of coherence between development partners.


Although political momentum towards aid effectiveness is increasing at global level, some very real aid management challenges remain at country level. Continued monitoring is therefore necessary, and we recommend that a review of the type presented here be repeated every 3 years.