Theo Clarke is Director of Conservative Friends of International Development and was Conservative candidate for Bristol East in 2015. She also runs the Conservative Party’s international social action project in Africa.
On World Health Day, I am reminded of the day when the deadly Ebola virus broke out in Sierra Leone in 2014, and threatened to become a global pandemic. The deadly virus swept across the country, claiming thousands of lives and devastating communities. The United Kingdom responded as it always has, without hesitation, as we led the international response, deploying British people – our nurses, military and aid workers – whose dedication, courage and professionalism are second to none.
It is during such difficult times for humanity that the world sees Britain at its best – a nation with compassion in its DNA. We worked hand in hand with the government of Sierra Leone and its people from setting up labs to quickly diagnose Ebola and building treatment centres to training frontline health workers.
A disease that had threatened to engulf West Africa and cause a global health crisis was finally brought under control and, in 2015, Sierra Leone was declared free of Ebola by the World Health Organization (WHO). UK aid helped to build a stronger, more prosperous Sierra Leone that is now much better prepared to tackle disease outbreaks in the future.
This is the Britain that the international community admires, a nation of strength and commitment during times of adversity. We should be proud of our country when it sends its dedicated people and professional resources to help others, standing by their side to face up to the challenges of an increasingly dangerous world.
We face enormous challenges. and there is a real chance that a more infectious disease than Ebola or Zika could emerge in the next decade. Diseases do not respect international borders, so we need to tackle global problems at their origin. That is why the Government is right to support British scientists to find solutions to the world’s biggest problems, such as through the Global Challenges Research Fund. Many UK institutions are researching ways to save lives around the world, including The Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, which is developing new insecticides to fight mosquitos carrying deadly malaria.
Our overseas aid budget has played a crucial role in saving and transforming lives, and going forward has a vital part to play in the Government’s Global Britain agenda. Through UK aid, we are helping to build a safer, more stable and prosperous world – not only because this is it the right thing to do, but because it is in our national interest. Priti Patel has rightly focused on increased transparency, tackling corruption and ensuring value for money. That is why the Government previously introduced an Aid Transparency Guarantee to ensure that we, the British people, can see where and how the aid budget is being spent. An independent aid watchdog now scrutinises all DfID programmes, drives efficiency and ensures that our money reaches the front line.
DfID is extremely good at what it does, as an International Development Select Committee report confirmed last week. The committee found that UK aid spending could be a strong investment, contributing to create a more prosperous world, which pays far-reaching dividends including to UK taxpayers at home. It also found DfID to have been very effective in its spending, with a higher standard for transparency and accountability that it said other Whitehall departments should strive towards. The department was urged by the committee to continue to strive to spend better, but not to spend less.
DfID is a leader in its field on all fronts. UK aid delivers for the world’s poorest, helps saves lives and, as the Prime Minister said, is a badge of hope to many around the world that has earned us international respect.
We are a global leader in the fight to eradicate violence and prejudices against women and girls, leading international efforts across 30 countries to tackle violence against women and girls in all its forms, from Female Genital Mutilation to child marriage.
The UK has stood squarely behind the world’s women and girls, determined to empower them with education and job opportunities, because once empowered, they are the drivers of stable communities and prosperity. Recently, I spoke at an event in Parliament hosted by the ONE Campaign, highlighting how poverty is sexist. There I met with scores of British secondary students and youth ambassadors who are highlighting this cause – all determined and informed young citizens proud of what their country does for the most vulnerable. Britain has been at the forefront of the response to the Syria crisis, investing in human necessities, including food, water, sanitation, shelter and, importantly for the region’s future stability, education.
Economic development is also key to building prosperous, stable communities that are attractive to thrive and live in. Last week, the London Stock Exchange’s (LSE) launched its first-ever ‘Companies to Inspire Africa’ report and Patel urged the City of London to rise to the challenge of becoming the global financial centre for the developing world.
Again, this is Britain at its best – innovative and smart development thinking that is of mutual benefit. Because no country can defeat poverty without sustained economic growth – jobs and investment opportunities are vital to helping the world’s poorest people to stand on their own two feet.
And as we look to redefine our place in the world following the EU Referendum, we need to establish new trade and economic links with the future trading partners of tomorrow. So let us be in no doubt that UK aid delivers for the working people of Britain and for the world’s poorest across the globe. It also sends out a loud and clear message to the international community that Britain can be relied upon to help build a more prosperous, fair and safer world.