Simon Hughes MP writes… We need to take Bill Gates’ advice on aid and fight against Malaria

Last Monday evening I was privileged to attend a Bill Gates lecture in the House of Lords.

Bill Gates made a compelling case for the use of aid to make a real and tangible difference to the world’s poorest people. Rightly, the UK has a long and proud tradition of doing this, but we can do so much more.

There is no better case study for this than Malaria – one of the world’s oldest and deadliest diseases and which kills a child every minute of every day. That’s despite the fact that the cause is preventable and costs less than the price of a cup of tea to treat.

My family take a particular interest in this issue after losing our oldest brother Richard to Malaria contracted in Kenya during his honeymoon some years ago.

Like many others, our family will therefore always want the UK to take a strong international leadership role in the fight against Malaria. The UK is currently the second largest government donor and there is widespread political and public support.

Encouragingly, unprecedented progress has been made recently –  since 2000 child deaths from malaria in sub Saharan Africa have been halved, saving over 3 million young lives.

But Malaria still costs many families who are already struggling in dire poverty as much as a quarter of their annual income, through lost earnings and the cost of treatment. Malaria is also holding back business and slowing national economic growth in many areas – by one to three per cent every year in severely affected countries. So there is not just a hugely important human benefit to be had here, but an economic one too.

The level of public support is shown by this moving film from Comic Relief.

Polling by Malaria No More UK (who helped support last week’s event) show that 7 in 10 of the UK public believe that Malaria is a serious development issue that must be addressed.

However, the danger with a disease like Malaria is that any let up could see progress completely derailed. We know from experience that prematurely ended Malaria programmes often result in a catastrophic resurgence.

I am proud that Liberal Democrats have so strongly backed a sustained commitment into the next parliament to fight Malaria. Both our pre-election manifesto and our international development conference motion reinforced our support for ending devastating but preventable diseases such as malaria, TB and HIV within a generation.

To have such a high profile figure as Bill Gates speak to parliament on these issues is also hugely helpful, and you can watch here.

Liberal Democrats have always focused on evidence based answers to problems, and there is no better example of that than our policy on international aid. Giving aid is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do, because it works. That is why it is right to put into law that 0.7 per cent of national income should be spent on foreign aid – a Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment. We are now closer than ever to delivering on this – a testament to my colleague Michael Moore, whose Private Member’s bill has government backing and should be delivered within this parliament.

While the Conservative foreign minister Philip Hammond may view our commitment on international aid as ‘bizarre’, as Liberal Democrats we will continue to fight for those who need our help most.


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  • It is can never be good policy personal and/or otherwise to leave any human being in dire need where there is ability to help. That should not however, be transformed into take overs! It is not just the help that counts but whose hands hold that opportunity.

  • Jayne Mansfield 18th Nov '14 - 3:30pm

    Thank you for raising this important topic. My Christmas present from my family is usually a card telling me that I have bought mosquito nets through a charity.

    It is important that the current emphasis on Ebola shouldn’t blind people to the fact that Malaria costs far more lives and devastating morbidity .

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Nov '14 - 7:05pm

    A good and personal article by Simon Hughes. I think international aid is important, but I think I would like the 0.7% budget cut to 0.5%. I know the UN wants 0.7%, but it is not required by law.

    When it comes to Bill Gates: I have a lot of respect for Bill Gates – the 80s Silicon Valley generation of entrepreneur’s are heroes of mine – however, if I were him I would just donate and shut up about it, rather than be the multi billionaire who visits austerity ridden countries with the begging bowl.

  • As Jayne mentions, it’s possible to buy malaria nets for developing countries through Oxfam, Save the Children – and other charities. One can buy them as gifts in their charity shops or online.. (I should say I used to work for Oxfam).

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