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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:22 pm on 13th June 2018.

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Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development) 3:22 pm, 13th June 2018

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I thank Stephen Crabb for securing this important debate, and for his passionate speech. He raised important concerns about the challenges faced in the developing world, talked about the many lives saved in vaccination programmes and their huge economic impact on society, and made the argument for UK aid.

I thank other hon. Members who took part: Jim Shannon, who always speaks passionately about the work done by DFID and its partners, and its global impact; the hon. Members for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) and for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), who said it was important to invest in vaccines for the poorest, as a priority; and Chris Law, who spoke about progress and challenges in AIDS vaccination.

It is estimated that between 2 million and 3 million lives could be saved every year if vaccines against preventable diseases were given to some of the world’s poorest people. It is a truly shocking statistic that in Africa alone more than 30 million children under the age of five suffer from preventable diseases every year, with, tragically, more than half a million resulting deaths. Let us be clear: we are talking about the completely avoidable, unnecessary death of children. It is a cruel and heartbreaking fact that pneumonia, an entirely preventable disease, is now the biggest infectious killer of children under five, claiming almost a million lives a year.

Should further evidence be needed to steel our resolve to increase vaccination coverage, the fact that two children die of pneumonia every minute must surely provide it. Only 7% of children in the world’s poorest 73 countries receive all 11 World Health Organisation-recommended vaccines. Should the political will and resources exist to vaccinate those children, hundreds of thousands of lives would be saved, but, unfortunately, the proportion of the world’s children who receive WHO-recommended vaccines has stalled over recent years. Please will the Minister outline how the Government are working to address equal access to vaccines to ensure coverage of even the most marginalised children?

In an effort to address that stalling effect, in May 2017, Health Ministers from 194 countries, including the UK, endorsed a new resolution on strengthening immunisation to achieve the goals of the 2012 global vaccine action plan—a road map to prevent millions of deaths through more equitable access to vaccines by 2020. The resolution urges countries

“to strengthen the governance and leadership of national immunization programmes, and improve monitoring and surveillance systems to ensure up-to-date data guides policy and programmatic decisions to optimize performance and impact.”

Given the skills and experience of the Office for National Statistics and the importance of statistical analysis in implementing vaccination programmes, will the Minister update colleagues on how best practice is being shared with action plan partners?

In saying that vaccines

“don’t just save lives, they also have a huge economic impact on families, communities and economies”,

I am using not my own words, but those of Dr Seth Berkley, chief executive officer of GAVI. I fully subscribe to the argument that reducing health costs that would otherwise be incurred in treating serious illnesses has a positive effect on economic productivity. The concept is clear: according to a study published today in Health Affairs, vaccines will help to prevent 24 million people in some of the world’s poorest countries from slipping into poverty by 2030. Dr Berkley says:

“A healthy child is more likely to go to school and become a more productive member of society in later life, while their families can avoid the often-crippling healthcare costs that diseases can bring”.

The statistics prove the economic value of vaccinations to some of the poorest countries in the world. According to the WHO, in Africa alone, vaccine-preventable diseases result in a significant annual economic burden estimated at some $13 million. We have already heard about the recent research by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which demonstrated that in every case where vaccines helped to prevent death or disability in 94 low and middle-income countries, including the world’s poorest nations, there was an estimated short-term return of more than 16 times on every $1 invested in vaccines. The figures show even more of an impact when wider economic benefits are considered, with the return on $1 dollar of investment increasing from 16 to 44 times.

From an economic perspective, UK aid funding for vaccinations simply makes financial sense by reducing the likelihood of disease outbreaks, the response to which is far more expensive. The economic benefit, however, will be under threat if current vaccination levels are not maintained. The WHO estimates a possible negative impact of some $59 billion over the next decade. It is crucial that Governments around the world recognise that vaccinations are one of the best buys for health and economic impact, and that they also recognise the risks to the economies of the poorest nations on earth if we are complacent about immunisation. With that in mind, will the Minister reaffirm the Government’s commitment to maintaining multilateral vaccine-specific funding?

Sustainable development goal 3 requires an end to preventable child deaths, and vaccinations have a crucial role to play in achieving that, yet we know that the cost of medicines is pushing another 100 million people a year into poverty. When Ebola broke out in west Africa in 2014-15, the lack of an available vaccine resulted in devastating consequences for local populations and understandable panic in capitals around the world. The lack of a viable vaccine was due not to a lack of research, as several candidate vaccines had been developed by Governments for biodefence purposes, but to a simple market failure.

The Government are a founding member of, and have supported generously, the GAVI pneumococcal advanced market commitment. AMCs are designed to accelerate the development of key vaccines and increase their availability in developing countries. A third supplier has entered the market to supply pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, the most expensive vaccine in the GAVI portfolio. It is now selling the vaccine at roughly 40% of existing prices. Given that success, what steps are the Government taking to promote competition within the wider vaccines market so as to increase affordability? Will the Government support Save the Children’s call to extend the AMC mechanism to allow funds to be spent beyond 2020? Finally, will the Minister outline the Government’s plans for future working with GAVI?

As we have heard from colleagues across the House, vaccinations not only save lives, but help to support healthier, more productive populations in the poorest countries in the world. They empower countries’ economies to grow and prosper, while allowing aid money to be spent more effectively on proactive rather than reactive programmes.

We are rightly proud of this country’s commitment to supporting vaccination programmes in some of the world’s poorest nations, but it is crucial that such programmes are maintained for the long term. Immunisation must remain a political priority, and the UK should continue to be a global leader in immunisation. Vaccines form an intrinsic part of universal health coverage, and I hope the UK Government will publicly champion the principles of united healthcare within their bilateral and multilateral support, while increasing technical and financial support to help to strengthen primary healthcare systems.

Child mortality will not be ended without a comprehensive, accessible and enduring vaccination programme. I take this opportunity to reaffirm Labour’s commitment to ending preventable child deaths, and to the sustainable development goals more widely, and I am sure the Minister would like to associate himself and his Department with that.