A report released ahead of the BRICS Summit shows how the five nations are bringing resources and a different approach to health care

With funds from traditional donors shrinking, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS nations) are now providing resources and innovation into efforts to improve health in the world's poorest countries.

According to a report “Shifting Paradigm – How the BRICS are Reshaping Global Health and Development” brought out by the Global Health Strategies Initiatives (GHSI)—an international non-governmental organisation – the estimated average annual growth in the BRICS foreign assistance spending between 2005 and 2010 was more than ten times higher than that of the G7 countries.

From 2005 to 2010, Brazil's assistance spending grew each year by around 20.4 per cent, India's by around 10.8 per cent, China's by 23.9 per cent and South Africa's by 8 per cent. Notably, the production of low cost drugs, diagnostics and vaccines by the BRICS nations will continue to provide significant benefits to developing countries, it says.

Foreign assistance

While all five countries have been engaged in foreign assistance for decades, the report finds that the size and scope of their efforts have grown rapidly along with their economies. Among the BRICS, China is by far the largest contributor to foreign assistance, and South Africa is estimated to be the smallest by a significant margin. India has increased its foreign assistance budget, and total assistance grew from an estimated $ 443 million in 2004 to $ 680 million in 2010. Yet health has not been a strong focus of assistance programmes. However, India's pharmaceutical industry continues to have enormous global impact.

Each of the BRICS countries is on the World Health Organisation's list of high TB-burden countries. India and China alone have 40 per cent of the world's TB patients, a disease that causes 1.1 million deaths annually. Yet, the BRICS also have the resources and innovative potential to provide models of success for others. According to the report, India helped prove DOTS (Directly Observed Treatment Short course) and DOTS-scale up as a template for global use. South Africa has made unprecedented commitments to scale up use of new TB diagnostics, and China, India and Brazil are exploring the same technology. The BRICS could also focus on producing low-cost TB diagnostics and vaccines. Global efforts are underway to develop these new TB tools, and the BRICS is already contributing. But additional investment and research is needed, and coordinated research efforts among the BRICS could accelerate results.

Indian manufacturers have played a critical role in driving down prices and improving access to low cost drugs and vaccines and HIV/AIDS treatments for millions of people worldwide. Just last month, India was officially removed from the list of polio endemic countries. India's polio programme was almost entirely self-funded through $ 1.49 billion in support to the global eradication initiative over nine years, and the government and partners mobilised millions of people to assist in immunisation campaigns, the report says.

The BRICS nations are employing approaches to assistance that are different from traditional donors and shaped by domestic experiences. The report was released here on Monday, ahead of the BRICS Summit. “As global economic developments reconfigure the quantum of international assistance, the world is looking to emerging economies like the BRICS for new resources and innovations to improve health in less developed countries,” Sachin Pilot, Minister of State for Communication and Information Technology said while releasing the report.