Medical Research - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:40 pm on 28th March 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative 7:40 pm, 28th March 2017

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, for enabling this debate. Very briefly, I will mention three aspects: first, the aim for health strategies and their deliveries to become much better co-ordinated internationally than at present; secondly, the current role and future prospects of product development partnerships; and thirdly, the priority of medical research into neurological diseases.

Pneumonia is the principal cause of death in children worldwide. It kills an estimated 1.1 million children under the age of five every year—more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. For the same age group of children, diarrhoea is the second biggest killer, each year accounting for 760,000 deaths. Globally, there are nearly 1.7 billion instances every year of diarrhoeal disease, which is also chiefly responsible for malnutrition.

Arising from viruses, bacteria or fungi, pneumonia can be mainly prevented by vaccines and enough food, yet only 30% of children with pneumonia receive antibiotics. Equally, while diarrhoea can be controlled through safe drinking water and adequate sanitation and hygiene, largely due to poor co-ordination among different healthcare deliveries, these simple measures are still far too neglected.

I recently chaired the Council of Europe’s health committee, and our emphasis was upon the urgent need for an integrated approach and for this to become the standard for the international healthcare policies of the affiliation’s 47 states. For his contributions to that consensus, I pay tribute in particular to the achievements and memory of Jim Dobbin, who was a professional microbiologist and in another place the Member of Parliament for Heywood and Middleton from 1997 until his death in 2014. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that integrated healthcare solutions should feature prominently within the current sustainable development goals framework and that the Government should seek to persuade other UN member states accordingly?

If competent deliveries should thus provide vaccines and hygiene together, rather than just the one without the other, product development partnerships have already assisted improved outcomes overseas in low and middle-income countries. Advancing R&D to serve those countries, PDPs are non-profit organisations and partnerships between academia, industry, the public sector and multilateral agencies. They have facilitated effective and affordable technologies and products, also encouraging the pharmaceutical industry to work on the diseases of poverty. Can the Minister say in what ways DfID and our Government will support the further work and diversification of bodies such as PDPs?

Research into neurological afflictions—to which the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, has already referred—including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, lags behind that into cancer, heart disease and infectious diseases. What plans, therefore, do the Government have to redress this imbalance and to persuade our international partners to do the same?

In summary, timely adjustments, as necessary, in medical research also reflect those required in poorer countries, such as of integrated medical delivery. Not least will the maintenance of the United Kingdom’s reputation and position depend on its ability to lead in these useful directions.