An important intervention in the aid debate

A new report by the ONE campaign shows how the UK aid budget will make a difference.

A new report by the ONE campaign shows how the UK aid budget will make a difference.

Today the ONE campaign has published a report that calculates what the UK international aid budget will actually be able to achieve between now and the next election. It is an incredibly important but also very clever interjection into the debate on overseas aid which continues to rage, despite the political consensus at the last election.

All three parties committed to meet the UN target of 0.7 per cent by 2013 in their manifestos, but the Conservatives went even further. Following Gordon Brown's announcement at Labour's 2009 party conference that Labour would legislate to make the commitment a legally binding target, the Conservative manifesto raised the stakes, declaring, on page 117:

A new Conservative government will be fully committed to achieving, by 2013, the UN target of spending 0.7% of national income as aid. We will stick to the rules laid down by the OECD about what spending counts as aid. We will legislate in the first session of a new Parliament to lock in this level of spending for every year from 2013.

Despite this being one of the longest ever sessions of Parliament, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has told journalists that there is no time for the legislation. So the ONE campaign has cleverly turned the debate from input - £8.6bn of your taxes - into outputs.

On the same day as the former Security Minister Lord West tells the Daily Telegraph that our aid budget should be cut in order to reinvest in the Royal Navy, the ONE campaign show us what your taxes can achieve. Lord West says he is "horrified our naval flotilla now comprises only 19 frigates and destroyers". But ONE's report reminds us of the horrifying fact that 50 million women around the world give birth outside of a health facility and without the support of a midwife or health worker.

On the same day we learn of a £2bn aircraft carrier procurement error, Lord West says our ability to recapture the Falkland Islands is at stake. But the ONE report reminds us that this year 358,000 mothers will die in unaided child birth and that 2.6 million stillbirths will result and a further 2.8 million children will die in their first week of life. As I argued when Liam Fox's letter on the 0.7 per cent aid commitment leaked, there is no trade off between body armour and bednets. We can have both.

Mitchell made clear in the Sunday Times (£) yesterday, that development is a process and that aid is just a step on the developing world's journey to self-sufficiency. The UK taxpayer should be proud that their country spends their taxes through a development department (DFID) and not an aid agency (like the State Department's USAid).

Mitchell has decided that DFID will leave India in time for the next UK election because the country will be rich enough to deal with its own poverty. But there will still be around 400 million people living on less than 80p ($1.25) a day in India, more than in the 51 countries of sub-Saharan Africa put together. The £280m a year that the DFID saves will be reinvested not in warships but in water sanitation. Let's just hope that India makes poverty reduction a priority but also be proud that the UK taxpayer made one big difference to the lives of the 1.2 million Indian children who have gone to primary school since 2003 thanks to us.

Richard Darlington was Special Adviser at DFID 2009-2010 and is now Head of News at IPPR - follow him on Twitter: @RDarlo

Richard Darlington is Head of News at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter @RDarlo.

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Tetris and sleep deprivation: how we can help emergency workers cope with trauma

First responders are at serious risk of developing PTSD during events like the Paris attacks. 

Some people seem able to deal with anything. They save a stranger from bleeding out in a bombed restaurant, protect passers-by from heavily armed gunmen, pull dead and dying people out of collapsed buildings, and they keep going because it is their job. These people are first responders.

When trauma goes on for days, as it has recently in Paris, however, the odds of them bouncing back from the violence, death and injury they are witnessing rapidly diminishes. They are at greater risk of developing a severe stress reaction known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One study found that the worldwide rate of PTSD among first responders is 10 per cent, much higher than the 3.5 per cent rate among those not involved in rescue work.

Tetris to the rescue

So how best to address the problem? Research is in its infancy, but there are some promising studies. Emily Holmes’ group at the University of Cambridge has been looking at the benefits of playing Tetris, a video game, after a traumatic experience. The idea is that this could block the consolidation of traumatic memories so they don’t “flash back” later on.

For the study, her team first traumatised people by showing them distressing footage from public safety videos. The next day they invited them back into the lab to reactivate the memories with still images taken from the videos. One group then played Tetris for 12 minutes while the other sat quietly. Over the following week, the group who played Tetris had about 50 per cent fewer unwanted memories from the films compared to the group who didn’t.

The team concluded that playing Tetris helped individuals because it soaks up their visual processing capacity, making it harder for the brain to consolidate the visual parts of a traumatic memory.

Since it takes about six hours for the brain to cement a memory, the key is to play the game soon after trauma or within six hours of re-activating the traumatic memory. How long the helpful effects of playing Tetris will last and whether it will translate into helping people after real-life trauma is still unknown.

Talking it through

Other techniques, such as “updating”, taken from a highly-effective talking treatment for PTSD, may be more practical and easier to implement.

Like a detective, updating is a technique that focuses on finding new information and linking it to the case, the past memory. This is necessary because when the brain and body are in survival mode during trauma, the mind finds it difficult to encode all the relevant facts. Often key pieces of information that could make the memory less traumatic are lost. Updating links new information to someone’s memory of their trauma to make it less upsetting.

But can updating help to reduce unwanted memories after trauma?

We carried out a study, published in PLOS ONE, in which we traumatised people by showing them terrifying films of humans and animals in distress. We then divided our participants into three groups. One group watched the films again but were given new information about how long people suffered and whether or not they lived or died – essentially, they were updated. The second group watched the same films again but without the new information. And the third group watched films of humans and animals who were not in distress. The updated group had fewer traumatic memories and PTSD symptoms than the other two groups.

Updating is now being used by some UK emergency services. First responders will gather after critical incidents and update their memories of what happened before they go home.

Sleep deprivation

There are other techniques that may be helpful. One study found that depriving people of sleep may be useful in the aftermath of trauma.

But the same study found that a week after the trauma, people who had been deprived of sleep had the same number of unwanted memories as people who had slept well afterwards. Consequently, it remains unclear whether there would be any long-lasting benefits using this method. There are, however, certainly health risks linked to lack of sleep.

Still looking for a solution

To develop preventative interventions, we need to study newly-recruited emergency workers who haven’t yet suffered on-the-job trauma and follow them over time, spotting which “coping styles”, present before trauma, may predict their reactions afterwards.

For example, some people naturally react to stressful life events by dwelling on them, thinking about why they happened for hours on end. This strategy, called rumination, has been linked to PTSD in people who survived car crashes.

If rumination predicts PTSD in first responders, then preventative interventions could train people to spot when they are dwelling on an event and refocus their attention to the task at hand.

When we have identified which factors heighten emergency workers’ risk of developing PTSD, programmes can be developed to target those vulnerabilities. Only then can an intervention, directed at first responders most at risk of developing PTSD, properly protect them in their line of work.

The Conversation

Jennifer Wild is a Senior Research Fellow in Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.