Infectious Disease Surveillance

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons on 13th February 2019.

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Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

What steps her Department is taking to support global surveillance systems for infectious diseases.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

Infectious disease surveillance is vital to global health security. The UK supports global, regional and national efforts to strengthen surveillance, including through the World Health Organisation, the global fund and the global polio eradication initiative. The Department for International Development’s tackling deadly diseases in Africa programme and Public Health England are helping to strengthen regional and national surveillance capacity.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

The eradication of polio in the next few years represents an incredible achievement of both vaccination and international co-operation, but the infrastructure and staffing of the global polio initiative has provided a lot of the surveillance that helped to detect epidemics such as Ebola. How does the Minister plan to replace the polio resources and ensure that both vaccination and surveillance continues?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

The hon. Lady, who understands this issue very well, is right to point to the importance of the global polio eradication initiative, which has been the bedrock for disease eradication efforts. Innovative approaches have helped to provide timely and high-quality surveillance. What we need to do is ensure, through both in-country programmes and the work being done through WHO, that surveillance on polio does not slacken off because of potential eradication, and we will continue to do that.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire

What potential is there for the work that the Department did last year with the Met Office, NASA and other US scientists on cholera in Yemen to be scaled up and used in other crisis situations to prevent the spread of disease?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

My right hon. Friend points to a remarkable innovation that, recognising the importance of wet and damp weather for the spread of cholera, used the resources of the Met Office to ensure that accurate support was provided in areas of risk. It is a very good use of modern technology, which we intend to see replicated elsewhere.

Photo of Stephen Gethins Stephen Gethins Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The Minister will be aware of some of the excellent work done by researchers in universities across the UK, including the University of St Andrews and the University of Dundee, in tackling illnesses such as AIDS, TB and malaria. Given the drop in aid to health spending recently, will he commit to ensuring a fully funded global fund?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

We have been one of the leading donors to the global fund, and there is no suggestion that that should end. My father was a graduate of St Andrews and was also at Dundee, and we will be making sure that good research facilities remain key to the United Kingdom’s support efforts.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development)

I associate the Labour party with the Secretary of State’s comments in respect of DFID staff in Nairobi.

We in the United Kingdom are rightly proud of our publicly run national health service, and it is thanks to our incredible NHS staff that we are able to effectively tackle the causes and symptoms of infectious diseases here. Does the Minister agree that this experience should underpin the Department’s work on health and that our overseas development work should therefore focus explicitly on supporting Governments and citizens to invest in their own universal healthcare systems?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

Absolutely. Much of our work in global health is designed to support particular projects to eradicate individual diseases, but it is also crucial that we support and sustain health systems where they are. These health systems will do an incredibly valuable job in looking for the sort of illnesses and infectious diseases, such as antimicrobial resistance, that could spread around the world.