[Sandra Osborne in the Chair] — Health Systems (Developing Countries)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:41 pm on 11th December 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Shadow Minister (International Development) 2:41 pm, 11th December 2014

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Osborne. I congratulate the Select Committee on International Development on its two fantastic reports, the second of which we will debate in a moment.

I had the great pleasure of serving on the Committee at the start of this Parliament for almost a year and a half. Having worked with many of its current members, I can say that it is full of people who are dedicated to ensuring that we spread the values that we hold dearly in the UK around the world to maximise opportunity in the fight against poverty. Two of my former colleagues on the Committee—Sir Malcolm Bruce and my hon. Friend Hugh Bayley—are retiring before the next Parliament. We all wish them both the very best for the future. The fact that both of them have used their last term in office to try to improve the life chances of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world speaks volumes. The right hon. Member for Gordon has been a member of the International Development

Committee since 1997, for which he deserves a special prize. I pay special tribute to the Department for International Development staff and health workers who have gone from the UK and elsewhere to help in the fight against Ebola and have risked their lives to protect the lives of others.

I am particularly pleased to be able to make the case for universal health coverage, as the Committee has done, given that the UK is a global leader on that issue. We should be the strongest global advocate for universal health care because our NHS is the envy of the world. It supports people from the cradle to the grave, and it is based not on people’s ability to pay but on their need. We should spread that health care model around the world.

In the current crisis in Sierra Leone, more than 1,600 people have lost their lives, and every week 200 to 300 people are dying and 400 to 500 people are becoming infected. That is a real and sad example of why sound health care systems are crucial. It also demonstrates why the UK and the Department for International Development are right to emphasise promoting private sector growth. Sustained economic growth, higher employment, strong infrastructure and other good development work can be lost in an instant during such epidemics.

Sierra Leone’s GDP growth has sharply declined, despite its positive growth in recent years. All its post-war achievements in the health, education, justice and employment sectors are in jeopardy. The Committee will know from its visits and from the testimonies it has heard that all the schools in Sierra Leone have been permanently closed, and there is a real risk of losing a generation. A generation of young people in Sierra Leone will never get the education they need to improve their life chances, get into meaningful work, break the cycle of deprivation, create a better life for themselves, their families and their communities, and create a better Sierra Leone in the process.

Let me compare three African countries with varied health systems. Sierra Leone, as my hon. Friend the Member for York Central said, has about 136 doctors and just over 1,000 nurses for 6 million people. That is the equivalent of one doctor for almost every 50,000 members of the population. Sadly, since November, more than 100 health workers, including five doctors, have lost their lives to Ebola. It is even worse in Liberia, which has an estimated 60 doctors and 1,000 nurses for 4.3 million people.

In contrast, Rwanda has more than 55,000 health workers for its population. The president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, said:

“If this had happened in Rwanda we would have had it under control.”

That shows the difference that a meaningful health care system can have. It demonstrates that there is no substitute for adequate local health care cover. If there is no functioning health service, a single outbreak can turn into a global crisis.