It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I thank my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb for securing this important debate.
We must not underestimate the value of human capital to the future of developing countries. Around the world, year on year, countries are still losing the talent and potential of countless people, including children, whose lives are tragically cut short by vaccine-preventable diseases. The vaccines for these diseases exist: if we want those countries to reach their fullest economic potential, ensuring people there have access to vaccination must be one of our highest priorities.
Vaccines are vital in every sense of the word. They ensure that as many people as possible—children and adults—live and enjoy healthier lives throughout the world. Healthier people are more able to go to school and work, and to drive the growth of their countries’ economies, intellectually or physically. The logic and the evidence are clear: vaccines are a powerful force for economic development and wealth creation.
A recent Harvard study projected that vaccines will prevent 36 million deaths by 2030 and prevent a further 24 million people across 41 developing countries from sliding into poverty. Those are staggering and extraordinary figures. They show why it is so important that vaccination is at the top of the UK Government’s agenda for international development. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that health and economy are separate; in my view, they are inextricably linked. As the Harvard evidence shows, a healthy society can evolve to become a wealthy society.
I am delighted that UK Governments of various colours in the past decades have recognised the value of vaccines. In 2016, the Government invested £116 million of bilateral aid towards vaccination in developing countries. That was alongside £81 million in multilateral funding for vaccine-related areas. That funding, and all the Government’s past funding for vaccination in developing countries, has helped saved millions of lives, kept people out of poverty and brought prosperity to developing countries around the world. We as a nation must sustain those efforts and ensure that the projections in the Harvard study are achieved and, where at all possible, exceeded. Given the past record, I am confident that the UK Government will be a major contributor, and I hope that they can work with partners around the world to ensure universal access to life-saving vaccines.
In addition to improving access, we must also work on research, as has been mentioned, to develop new and improved but cost-effective and more easily accessible vaccines for developing countries and their citizens. The fruits of such research will go a long way towards ensuring that we banish once and for all the diseases that wreak tragedy around the world and hold back the economies of so many developing countries. Everyone, irrespective of what circumstances they are born into, should be able to live a life that is as healthy and productive as possible, and they should have as much access as possible to basic healthcare facilities, including vaccines.
It is shameful that people, especially young children, are still dying needlessly or suffering in large numbers from diseases that are so easily preventable by vaccination. I am thankful and proud that the UK Government recognise the health and economic importance of vaccination and are working tirelessly to build the healthier world that I am sure we all wish to see. The UK foreign aid budget has many critics, but, despite the odd failing, we can be extremely proud that the provision of vaccines is a key component of UK aid. I hope the Minister will confirm that such efforts will continue and might even expand.
At this point, I declare a slight interest. I am a Rotary International member, but I will congratulate Rotary here in Great Britain and Ireland, and their partners—including the Bill Gates foundation—for the Purple4Polio project, which, as was mentioned earlier, began way back in 1985. When that was introduced with such foresight all those years ago, there were 125 polio-endemic countries, with hundreds of new cases every single day throughout the world. Today, as was said before, only three polio-endemic countries exist, with some 22 reported cases in all last year. That is something that Rotary can be proud of, so well done to Rotary for its mission and its strapline “End Polio Now and Forever”. It is almost there and can see the finishing line.
Finally, we mentioned the successes of UK individuals in promoting vaccines. In fact, we are not talking about a vaccine, but an antibiotic. Sir Alexander Fleming, a Scottish physician and Nobel prize winner, was born in Ayrshire—not quite in my constituency, but in a neighbouring one. The provision of the antibiotic called penicillin was a success. We should be proud of this country’s achievement and our research and development. As was said earlier, we need to promote that more and encourage our young men and women as they come through life to look back at what their forefathers or forebears did. They can equal and, I am sure, better that as we enter into a new era of new technology, and medicines must surely be a part of that new technology. Artificial intelligence is way beyond me, but we can tap into genomics and we need to share it for the benefit of the people we share the planet with.