When it comes to UK aid, one area in particular has ennobled Britain and made the world a fairer, safer and more prosperous place: global health. On this day, World Health Day, there is no better time to celebrate, and also scrutinise, our legacy.
Our record of saving lives in the world’s poorest countries is second to none. Working to boost global health systems around the world is the corner stone of international development, and the UK takes it very seriously. As a member of the International Development Select Committee (IDC) and having seen first-hand the work the Department for International Development (DFID) does on a series of global trips, I know the UK not only believes in the idea that where you live should not determine whether you live, but also acts to make that belief a reality.
That aspiration is achieved by our pledges to multilateral health programmes such as GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, and The Global Fund – which fights AIDS, TB and Malaria. Two of these organisations had their replenishments in the past two years, and in both instances the UK stepped up and proved among the biggest donors. That we back these organisations in their life-saving work is evidence of how seriously the UK takes global health. These are among the most effective organisations of their kind in the world, and the UK has led the way in making them even more impactful, with caveats on our pledges demanding better transparency and more focus on hard to reach groups.
The UK looks to help immediately when pandemics occur, and in the long-term to enable countries to defeat crises without external support. An excellent example was our response with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The UK was one of the swiftest countries to respond, and the fact that British institutions such as the army and NHS stepped in to help is evidence of our commitment.
Stopping this pandemic went beyond helping others, though; it was in our national interest too. As we saw with the international spread of Ebola, disease does not respect borders. Simply stepping back and letting others sort it out was not an option. In the interconnected world in which we live diseases like this are only a plane journey away from our shores, so stopping them in their tracks is key.
Our desire to help others does not stop there, however, as we do a tremendous amount through our research and development. UK expertise and research is at the forefront of developing vaccines for the Zika virus, as the Prime Minister has recently pointed out. UK aid is our best defence against this. It shows we are there for those who have the least when they need it most, and that Britain is a country that acts morally and effectively - using its expertise, knowledge, and aid.
While we are proud of the progress, we know there is much more to be done. A perfect example is with the HIV/AIDs situation, where only a few years ago we thought we had reached a crucial “tipping point” (where there are more people receiving treatment than there are new infections). However, when UNAIDs updated their data, it sadly showed we had not yet reached this milestone. The situation is not simply a case of “we’ll get there eventually” as the window of opportunity is closing, and if we do not act now, we will have missed our chance. The HIV/AIDs crisis encapsulates the UK’s approach to health – we are proud of our enormous impact around the world, yet we are also very sober about the difficulty of completing the job.
Our work in global health is not solely about providing direct help, but also about helping countries install systems and governance to build their own resilient health systems; we want to help countries help themselves. Our main role on the IDC is to scrutinise our aid to ensure it is effective, reaches those it needs to, and that every taxpayer pound gets value for money. To put it simply – when it comes to health, we succeed on all those fronts. DFID are among the best of their kind: one of the most transparent and accountable aid agencies in the world, and I am confident that they are helping developing countries achieve the strong health care systems they need.
As aid comes under ever more scrutiny, and we are incredibly mindful of every penny spent by Government, it is key to remember the impact we have had in making the world a healthier place. Supporting countries in the manner we do helps their security and prosperity, and ensuring that we continue to help others is the sign of a truly global Britain.
Pauline Latham OBE MP is the Conservative Member for Mid Derbyshire. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.