As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I thank Stephen Crabb for bringing us not only this important debate, but light and truth to an area that is often overshadowed and neglected. Although there was a lack of consensus in Prime Minister’s questions today, I think we agree in this Chamber that vaccines have brought some of the greatest public health successes of the past century.
According to the World Health Organisation, immunisations currently prevent approximately 2 to 3 million deaths—more than half the population of Scotland—per year, and also prevent a large range of illnesses and disabilities associated with them. As we have heard, vaccination programmes do not just save lives; they also have a positive impact on increasing economic productivity.
Widespread access to vaccines in developing countries offers many benefits, including direct medical savings by preventing illness, and also through indirect economic benefits such as educational attainment, labour productivity, cognitive development, higher income, savings, and of course investment. I could go on. To put it simply, healthy children are more likely to attend schools and become economically productive adults. Vaccinating a baby benefits everyone in the long run. As all of us in the Chamber will note, we have all been through the vaccination process and are of course eternally grateful for it.
A Harvard University study published in February in the journal “Health Affairs” modelled the health and economic impact of vaccines for 10 diseases in 41 developing countries. It showed that increasing vaccination rates in developing countries could reduce poverty. The co-author of the study, GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, reported that in addition to saving millions of lives, vaccines will help prevent 24 million people in some of the world’s poorest countries from slipping into poverty by 2030 because of the cost of medical treatment.
Previous studies have estimated that every dollar invested in vaccines—we have heard this today already—saves $16 in terms of healthcare costs, lost wages, and lost productivity due to illness. There are even greater savings of $44 per $1 spent if the wider benefits of people living longer and healthier lives are taken into account. That all highlights the important role that vaccination has to play in reducing poverty.
We all welcome and support the good work that the Department for International Development is doing on vaccines. Through its funding of GAVI, it provides immunisation against life-threatening diseases around the world. Since its establishment, GAVI has reached 500 million children and prevented more than 7 million deaths in the process. Save the Children has estimated that UK investment in vaccines saves the life of a child every two minutes—something that we should all be proud of. However, I have done a little research in the House of Commons Library, and it came as surprise to find figures showing that UK bilateral aid spent on vaccination-related programmes dropped by almost half between 2013 and 2016. The UK Government must therefore refocus, and increase funding for vaccination-related programmes if we are to continue to save lives.
There can be no doubt that organisations such as GAVI play a vital role in ensuring the successful roll-out of existing vaccines, but we must also recognise that there is an urgent and pressing need to research and develop new vaccines—not only for emerging epidemics, but for those that already exist and have devastating consequences for human life and economies in developing countries.
HIV is a case in point. Notwithstanding progress, AIDS remains one of the world’s leading infectious killers, and new HIV infection rates remain stubbornly high—so high, in fact, that we are off track to meet the sustainable development goal targets. There is a consensus, which includes Bill Gates, Michel Sidibé and Peter Piot, that we will end AIDS only with an HIV vaccine. Does the Minister therefore agree with the experts that it is only by investing today in research and development on those new technologies that we can deliver on our promise of a tomorrow free from AIDS?
It is vital that poorer countries and emerging economies be helped to secure fair vaccine prices to increase coverage and save lives, so I ask what steps the Minister’s Department is taking to ensure vaccine price transparency and to promote competition within the market to increase affordability. The failing market was touched on earlier in the debate. Finally, how is the Department approaching the upcoming replenishment period and strategy review with GAVI?
Vaccines save lives. They can transform countries, offering opportunities for poverty reduction and greater social and economic development. We must ensure that existing life-saving vaccines are introduced into countries where people need them most, and support the innovation needed to develop new vaccines.