Citing shortfalls in donor support for global health issues, a team of experts has proposed a new method to classify aid that emphasizes global functions such as research and development of new health tools, instead of focusing on individual countries or specific diseases.

“The slow global response to the Ebola crisis in west Africa suggests that important gaps exist in financing of these global functions,” according to an article in The Lancet that outlines this approach and analyzes the situation. “However, the amount of funding for these functions is unclear. Although previous research has tracked donor funding to specific diseases and geographical regions no in-depth studies have tracked donor funding for global health functions.”

The analysis underscores the gap between global health needs and donors contributions to these needs.

In the years leading up to the recent Ebola crisis in West Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) has seen its budget for responding to such events drop from $469 million to $241 million. This indicates that “the actions of the global health system are not commensurate with the size and nature of pandemic threats,” the article stated.

WHO leaders approving a $100 million emergency fund is a sign that global health funding priorities are gaining some needed attention.

At the same time, the study reported that approximately 79% of official development assistance disbursements were devoted to supporting individual countries in 2013, compared with just 21% allotted for global functions, which includes the categories of public goods (research and development), providing leadership and stewardship, and managing cross-border externalities—an area that addresses outbreak preparedness.

The study authors recommended breaking down donor aid into these three global function categories, instead of by country-specific aid. “We use a new measure of donor funding that combines official development assistance (ODA) for health with additional donor spending on research and development (R&D) for diseases of poverty,” they explain in their article.

Dean Jamison, PhD, a global health economist at UC San Francisco (UCSF) and one of the study’s authors, suggests that investing in global research and development and taking steps to stop transmission of drug-resistant disease strains would have a global impact on the world’s poor, no matter what country they live in.

One area where aid could be reduced is in middle-income countries, which receive more than 30% of country-specific assistance and “can afford more domestic spending on health,” said Jamison in a statement issued by UCSF.

Sufficient support of global research and development for neglected diseases would require a $6 billion annual investment, according to WHO’s Consultative Expert Working Group on R&D.

“Our analysis suggests that there is still a long way to go to reach the $6 billion target,” authors of The Lancet article stated.