Last week, Jim Dobbin MP, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Child Health and Vaccine Preventable Diseases was in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania to take part in a global health summit to raise awareness of the challenges entailed in vaccinating children against preventable diseases such as pneumonia, rotavirus, HPV and rubella.
The summit, which was being hosted by the Tanzanian Ministry of Health and coordinated by the GAVI Alliance, saw more than 500 distinguished global health leaders and parliamentarians from developing and donor countries, technical experts, civil society organisations and private sector partners come together to promote the Global Vaccine Action Plan, endorsed at the May 2012 World Health Assembly, and determine what more can be done to meet goals for women’s and children’s health through vaccination programmes.
The conference was particularly timely. Despite the great efforts of many, pneumonia remains the leading killer of children under five worldwide, and is responsible for 1.3 million child deaths every year. Rotavirus, the leading cause of diarrhoeal disease, is further estimated to cause the deaths of 450,000 children every year, nearly 1,200 children every day, and cervical cancer is expected to be responsible for as many as 400,000 women’s deaths by 2030 if left unchecked. Whilst in Tanzania, Jim saw firsthand how UK funding is being used to support GAVI sponsored immunisation projects across the country. He visited community health centres, immunisation institutes and communities in some of the hardest to reach areas of the country where he met the very children whose lives UK funding is helping to save. The UK is regarded around the world as a key driver of international development policy and it is therefore essential to see how UK funding is being used by GAVI to save lives on the ground.
This message about the UK’s leading role in supporting development policy is particularly important in connection with the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. The UK economy has been struggling for some time and a number of groups have used this as a justification to cut international development spending. This is a position which is rejected by the All Party Group and one which, fortunately, remains on the fringes of the debate. Successive Governments have reiterated their commitment to funding vaccination efforts, with Prime Minister Cameron last year pledging an additional £814 million to support the work of the GAVI Alliance. There is real cross-party support for preventative healthcare and this All Party Group is one example of this support.
The All Party Group fully supports the work of the GAVI Alliance and welcomes the opportunity to discuss vaccines and immunisation strategy with our global partners in Tanzania. The Group reiterates that there has been real progress on rolling out vaccines across the developing world. However we must be watchful that this momentum doesn’t stall when children across the world are still dying from preventable diseases. The UK needs to continue to support innovative approaches to development policy, such as the GAVI Alliance, with both appropriate levels of funding and through leadership in demonstrating the value of targeted, effective and cost efficient development programmes. We must reject at all costs, the call to cut funding for this vital work.
* Eric Lubbock, Lord Avebury, is a working peer, and Vice-Chair, Parliamentary Human Rights Group. He blogs here.