James Sunderland writes a joint article with Derek Thomas MP for The Times.
Few chancellors of the exchequer will have arrived at No 11 with quite as daunting an in-tray as Jeremy Hunt did last month. Among the decisions he will have to make before his autumn statement next Thursday is on Britain’s renewed support for the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
That fund may not occupy the same amount of column inches as the other issues demanding his attention, but that’s not to say it isn’t still crucially important. A decision by the UK to reduce its support for the fund would put millions of lives in jeopardy over the next three years, and would risk backsliding in the struggle to finally defeat three of the biggest killers in human history.
The importance of this decision doesn’t stop there, however. The world is still learning the brutal lessons of the past two and a half years and the grim struggle against Covid-19.
As the MP for St Ives, West Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, I (Derek Thomas) was honoured to host in my constituency the G7 Working Group on Vaccine Confidence, where partners celebrated the gargantuan efforts of scientists from around the world, particularly in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. While their resilience was admirable, we owe it to them to do our very best to prevent any such disaster from happening again.
One of the clear lessons from the fight against Covid-19 was that to eradicate a disease a truly global effort is required. It took a matter of weeks for a virus first identified in China to wreak havoc in every corner of our planet.
There’s another important lesson in this context. As devastating as the pandemic was, it could have been worse had it not been for the decades of investment in global health that played a vital role in reinforcing vulnerable health systems and reducing the horrific fallout from the pandemic.
This is why organisations like the Global Fund are so critical. It was one of the unsung heroes of the pandemic, and now forms one of the cornerstones in our global efforts to ensure we are better prepared and better equipped to reduce the threat from future pandemics.
While the Global Fund has been able to save 50 million lives since its inception across the three diseases, all of this progress could be at risk if the UK does not step up to the challenge. As vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases, I (James Sunderland) have seen first-hand the devastating impact that diseases like malaria continue to have on communities, including when I visited a health centre on the outskirts of Kigali, Rwanda, earlier this year. We just cannot risk losing any more lives to a disease that we know is entirely preventable, treatable and beatable.
Since Hunt has taken the reins at the Treasury there has been serious pressure on him to cut spending, but our enduring commitment to the Global Fund should not be one of them. We are clearly at a time of need at home, and it is right that government priorities should be met by appropriate funding. Yet it is also important that we do not lose sight of the global communities that lie further afield, and that Britain has played a crucial role in supporting over many decades.
Our closest allies, including the US, Germany, Canada, and Japan, have made ambitious commitments to the Global Fund. We should strive to demonstrate the same level of support, especially on issues that are truly life and death in nature. Without a strong financial commitment from the UK, all the hard-fought progress to date could be lost and millions of lives will be at risk. Our relationships with key allies may also be threatened at a time when British leadership is needed now more than ever.
Lastly, there can be few smarter investments the Treasury could make, and few better ways of showing we have learned the lessons of the past, by upholding the Global Fund. The prize of seeing malaria and other horrible diseases eradicated for ever is just too tantalisingly close to ignore.
James Sunderland is Conservative MP for Bracknell and Derek Thomas is Conservative MP for St Ives, West Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly