Vaccinations: Developing Countries — [Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:53 pm on 13th June 2018.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 2:53 pm, 13th June 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I congratulate Stephen Crabb on bringing this matter to Westminster Hall for consideration today. I am very happy to make a contribution to support his proposals and the views that he has put forward.

When I look at my own life and at my two beautiful granddaughters, I know that there is little in the world that I would not do to protect them and help them, because that is what a father and a grandfather would do. There is no medication that I would not fight for, and that is why I have been trying to help my constituents to secure medication for their ill child and why I continue that fight, with help from the relevant Ministers. This is not the day for that debate; this is a separate debate, but I wanted to illustrate how much it would mean to me if I had to have medication to try to save my child and what I would do to make that happen. I do not think that there is one person in this Chamber who would not have the same opinion; we would do everything within our power to make it happen.

I think of those children in Africa and, indeed, throughout the world whose parents and grandparents have nothing; they have little or no way to get the help that their children need. As fathers and grandfathers, our compassion for them is illustrated through our own personal beliefs and through our actions to help those who do not have the ability to help themselves. That is why I am supportive of aid going to make a difference to the health of people in those nations, and why I have always supported DFID’s commitment and the Government’s commitment to the DFID aid programme. It may not be popular with everybody, but let us think about what it achieves. I will illustrate in my contribution what it achieves. It achieves a massive amount of help for the people who need it, and I am very supportive of that.

Prevention is better than cure. We have been practising that for some time on our own shores. It is why our newborns, every three months, have new injections that make them scream and their mothers squirm with guilt for knowingly causing them pain. The short-term pain will prevent massive life-threatening illnesses in the future and is of course well worth it, as we all know through our own parenthood.

It is estimated that the aid that we give GAVI between 2016 and 2020 will fully deliver on the UK target to immunise 76 million children and save 1.4 million lives. If ever anyone needed motivation for doing this, surely that is it—76 million children immunised and 1.4 million lives saved through the programme that we do; it is done by our Government. That is a tremendous result for the amount of aid that we grant for immunisation purposes. The fact is that through prevention we save money and promote economic growth, in that a child who is prevented from having a debilitating illness will be able to attend school and eventually start work and be able to provide, rather than being a drain on their family.

The right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire explained that when sickness comes into a family, the opportunity to earn is restricted right away, and that affects the whole family. That is the truth. If there are multiple cases in a family—two or three children and perhaps a father who is unable to earn and a mother who is not well—all of a sudden the problem is compounded. It is so important to recognise that.

There has been massive success with immunisation in Africa, and that must continue. For it to do so, we must have adequate funding and perhaps work more with partners across the world to ensure that they also have—I say this very gently—the conscience and the compassion that they should have for those who are less well off. The Vaccines for Africa Initiative website outlines success stories. There are some; let us not pass this by and say that we have not done well, because we have, but we can do more.

In 1977, smallpox was eradicated after a successful 10-year campaign carried out by the World Health Organisation. It was through our efforts with our partners that we made that happen. Before the vaccination programme began, smallpox threatened 60% of the world’s population and killed every fourth person infected. That was the magnitude of smallpox. Vaccinologists are applying the lessons learned during the eradication of smallpox to control and eliminate many other vaccine-preventable diseases, so lessons learned have become good practice. That indicates how we have learned and how we intend to do better in the future.

The development of an effective vaccine against polio was heralded as one of the major medical breakthroughs of the 20th century. Currently, several different formulations of polio vaccines are in use to stop polio transmission. Poliovirus infections have fallen by more than 99%, from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988 to 416 reported cases in 2013. Let us dwell on that for a second: a 99% reduction resulting from an immunisation programme. If that is not good news, there is something wrong with what we are listening to. That is what can be done if we have the commitment, the effort, the finance and the drive to make it happen. Our Government have been involved in that programme; our Minister and his Department have been involved in making it happen.

More than 5 million people have escaped paralysis since the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988 by the World Health Organisation and its partners, of which we are one. Polio has been eradicated in the western hemisphere, and many other countries have been declared polio free. Again, that is tremendous news. As at the end of 2012, polio was endemic in only three countries in the world. The website to which I referred states:

“According to the GPEI, if enough people in all communities are immunized, the polio virus will be limited to spread and it will die out.”

That has to be our goal: the complete eradication of polio. High levels of vaccination coverage against polio must be maintained to stop transmission and prevent outbreaks. The GPEI is constantly assessing the optimal use of the different vaccines to prevent paralytic polio and stop poliovirus transmission in different areas of the world. We have come so far, but we need to be vigilant to ensure that there is no comeback and that polio is totally eradicated.

Measles vaccination has not had the same level of success, but it is still a fantastic success story. It resulted in a 75% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2013 worldwide. During the same period, measles cases dropped by 58% from 853,500 down to 355,000—again, a massive drop and good news. The World Health Organisation recommends that every child receives two doses of the measles vaccine. I remember receiving it as a child in the 1960s quite well. I remember the swelling on my arm and the pain, but my dad stood next to me and made sure I had it done. He was always there to comfort me as well.

According to a report by the Measles & Rubella Initiative, African countries have made the most progress—fantastic progress. They reduced measles deaths by 86% between 2000 and 2014. That is another fantastic, well recorded success story of what we have done. Such stories ensure that we continue aiming for the eradication of these diseases.

Meningitis is a serious public health problem among 25 countries in the African meningitis belt. Every one of us, as elected representatives, has had constituents who have had meningitis in their family. We know of the blotches, the faintness, the dizziness and the tiredness. We know that if our child or grandchild has those symptoms, our knees knock for worry about meningitis, but in African countries meningitis is very real. It extends from Senegal, on the shores of the Atlantic ocean, to Eritrea along the Red sea. Meningitis is prevalent right across that stretch of Africa.

Half a million people living in that region are at risk from epidemic meningitis each year. In 1996, there was a particularly devastating meningitis outbreak, which caused more than 250,000 cases and 25,000 deaths. That was mainly due to the Neisseria meningitidis group A, or Men A, as it is referred to. Within 10 years, the Meningitis Vaccine Project developed an affordable Men A conjugate vaccine. The vaccine reduced the incidence of meningitis of any kind by 94%—is that not fantastic?—following a mass immunisation programme in Chad, in west Africa. If we can immunise, we can stop the disease, deaths, pain, suffering, sickness and illness, and that has to be good.