Andrea Jenkyns is MP for Morley and Outwood.
When the world works together, we can achieve extraordinary things. This is most pertinent in medical advancement and healthcare. Take polio, for example. Cases have decreased by more than 99 per cent since 1988, from over 350,000 cases to just 22 in 2017. Now we must do the same for malaria.
I recently travelled to Kenya with Malaria No More UK to gain a deeper understanding of the impact of malaria and how we can beat it. Sadly, the human cost of the disease was most evident on Siaya County Hospital’s children’s ward. Doctors and nurses were treating several young children that were unconscious with severe malaria.
Statistics show that a child dies every two minutes from malaria, and it was heart-breaking to see that, often, by the time families travel to their nearest health facility it is too late. As a mother myself to a young toddler, to witness a baby needing to be resuscitated due to this terrible disease brought tears to my eyes.
However, in Siaya County, volunteers have been trained to diagnose and treat malaria in their own communities, thus thankfully preventing complications and deaths. I saw first-hand how this approach is saving lives. On a home visit, I saw how simple it is to test and treat malaria if the right medicines are made available. It took 20 minutes to test three-year-old Rollins – and within the hour Rollins had been treated and was on the road to recovery.
Despite malaria being treatable and preventable, it still claims almost 500,000 lives every year and is the world’s oldest and deadliest disease. There has been a significant reduction in cases and deaths, but now, for the first time in a decade, progress has stalled and there is a risk of resurgence.
One of the biggest threats to progress is the development of antimicrobial resistance, from which my own father died following a routine operation. Resistance to artemisinin drugs, the most powerful currently available to treat malaria, has now been found in five countries in South-East Asia.
Britain has been at the forefront of the malaria fight through political leadership, funding, and science and research, such as the new insecticides at Liverpool’s Innovative Vector Control Consortium and GSK’s development of the world’s first vaccine against malaria. With this experience and resource, the UK is in a unique position to demonstrate leadership in the fight against malaria.
The UK also has strong economic, political and cultural links with many of the countries most affected by malaria, not least through membership of the Commonwealth. Ninety per cent of Commonwealth citizens live in malaria-endemic countries. We cannot end this killer disease without Commonwealth action.
In April, Commonwealth countries signed up to halving malaria by 2023. If realised, the impact would be immense: 350 million cases would be prevented, and 650,000 lives would be saved. The UK Government holds the privileged position of Commonwealth Chair-in-Office for the next two years, and must use this opportunity to work with Commonwealth members to maximise progress.
UK leadership in tackling malaria epitomises Global Britain at its best, a nation that is an outward-looking force for good in the world, leading the way in tackling the great challenges facing the world’s poorest people.
Ill health, such as that caused by malaria, is one of the greatest barriers to the prosperity of individuals and nations. Malaria deprives millions of children of school days, adults of their income, and businesses of their workforce. Malaria destroys lives and livelihoods and can hold back a country’s GDP by as much as 1.3 per cent per annum. Between 2000 and 2015, an estimated £524 billion was lost from global GDP as a result of malaria.
A healthy, educated population is a precondition for economic development and growth. By maintaining a focus on malaria elimination, the UK can help to reduce poverty experienced by the world’s poorest people and unleash untapped economic potential in malaria-affected countries, which would also further our own national interests.
A report published by EY estimates that UK trade with the 13 most malaria-affected countries could have been up to £765 million higher in 2015, but for the effects of malaria. As the UK strengthens ties with the Commonwealth and seizes opportunities to forge a new set of trade and investment relationships post-Brexit, driving progress towards a malaria-free world will address a significant barrier to economic development and ultimately increase our own scope for international trade.
Investment in malaria prevention and treatment also offers real value for money, delivering $36 of social and economic benefits for every $1 spent.
We can be proud that political and financial leadership at home has played a pivotal role in cutting global malaria deaths by over 60% since 2000, saving almost seven million lives. With renewed commitment, the UK can continue to lead the world on consigning this devastating disease to history, and creating a safer, healthier and more prosperous world for us all.
This article is an extract from Healthier, Safer, More Prosperous: The Case for British Leadership in International Development, a new book of essays published jointly by Conservative Friends of International Development & Save the Children.