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How Britain leads the way on aid

Supporting the world’s most vulnerable communities benefits all of us

By Wendy Morton  

Andrew Matthews/PA Archive/PA Images

Coronavirus is affecting communities around the world. We do not yet know how profound and far-reaching an effect it will ultimately have. Nevertheless, it is clear no one is safe until we are all safe.

This pandemic is demonstrating just how interconnected our world is. If we want to lessen the virus’ lasting global impact and help prevent a second wave, we need to make sure the most vulnerable countries can cope.

Right now, there is a bleak outlook for many countries in the developing world, which are experiencing health, humanitarian and economic crises. They face the prospect of much greater hardship for years to come.

As the minister responsible for global health at the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office, I have seen how the huge generosity of the British people, and the expertise of our scientists and engineers, is helping lead the global response.

Health experts have identified the weakness of developing countries’ healthcare systems as one of the biggest risks in terms of the global spread of the virus. Failing to tackle that leaves the UK and our NHS exposed to future waves of infection.


This essay featured in Prospect‘s July 2020 “The future of aid” supplement.
Read the full report here

We are helping to strengthen healthcare systems in the poorest countries, we are supporting the most vulnerable economies with debt relief, and we are researching new vaccines and treatments. So far, we have pledged £744m in total to do this, an investment to make sure we can end this pandemic sooner, thus protecting communities here at home.

Of that funding, £200m is providing emergency humanitarian support to train rapid response teams and medical staff in developing countries to identify and respond to coronavirus. This support will also deliver vital medical supplies so fragile health systems can keep going, and will provide soap and places where people can wash their hands or stay isolated when needed in refugee camps and the world’s poorest communities.

The pandemic also threatens many countries with economic collapse, undoing the significant progress made to reduce global poverty in recent decades. While the UK government has robust and generous plans in place to protect the British economy, other countries will be less fortunate.

That is why in April the UK helped lead the call among G20 countries to suspend debt service payments from the poorest nations until the end of 2020, creating up to $12bn of financial breathing space so they can invest in responding to the pandemic. This, along with the £150m we have made available to the International Monetary Fund for debt relief, will help developing countries direct more of their own money into efforts to fight the virus.

As the prime minister has said, the way to end the pandemic for good is through a vaccine—this is the greatest shared endeavour of our lifetime. That is why the UK is the biggest supporter of the international vaccine research run by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, pledging £250m of UK aid. British scientists are working with international partners, and clinical trials are already underway in the UK with support from our government’s vaccine taskforce.

Ending the pandemic and its threats to the UK will only be possible if a vaccine is available to everyone. I am proud that the UK has led efforts with the World Health Organisation and countries including France, Germany, Malaysia and South Africa to agree that any new vaccine is made available around the world.

Last Sunday marked Edward Jenner’s birthday, the British physician seen as the father of modern vaccines. So it’s therefore fitting that the UK is virtually hosting the Global Vaccine Summit on 4th June, where we and other nations will come together to secure the future of global vaccinations through Gavi, the global Vaccine Alliance.

We have already announced the equivalent of £330m a year for the next five years for Gavi, which will immunise 75m children in the world’s poorest countries against diseases like measles, typhoid and pneumonia.

The summit will be led by the prime minister, bringing together other nations, major donors and pharmaceutical companies to raise the funds Gavi needs to vaccinate children worldwide against these devastating diseases, and in turn strengthen healthcare systems.

My department’s priorities in this crisis are to save lives, make economies more resilient and prevent future waves of infection. Working together to tackle coronavirus is the only way we will ultimately defeat it.

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