Funding Healthcare Abroad Can Protect Britain From the Next Pandemic

30 August 2022 by Stephen Hammond, Conservative MP for Wimbledon

In the last three years we have seen our society paralysed. Normal life was brought to a halt as an unknown virus came to these shores. More recently, a health emergency has been declared as we scramble to deal with another disease — monkeypox — spreading from abroad.

Meanwhile, a disease we thought had been globally conquered — polio — has been detected in both London and New York. While detecting polio is a success for public health surveillance, how much better would it be if these outbreaks were nipped in the bud at the source?

The new polling by the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria — the organisation dedicated to successfully conquering the three major diseases — highlights why prevention is so important. It shows that three in five people in this country are against surrendering to these diseases and leaving the battle against them half won.

People increasingly understand that Britain has a vital role in this struggle and should continue to be a major supporter of the Global Fund.

There can be no doubt that unless richer countries, including the UK, agree to once again support the Global Fund at its replenishment conference next month, the threat of disease epidemics will rebound.

We are already seeing tuberculosis mutate, babies being born with HIV, and malaria numbers rising again, all of which wreak havoc on whole nations and plunge them deeper into poverty and insecurity.

The public gets this. The polling shows that throughout our country, including in the red wall, voters support funding to fight diseases which could also threaten this country. This is no surprise given 66 per cent of people agree that Covid-19 allowed them to see how interconnected we are when it comes to global health.

Sixty per cent of respondents agreed with the statement “It is important that countries like the UK keep funding initiatives like this so that progress continues to be made in the fight against these illnesses and progress made doesn’t unravel”, with just 11 per cent of respondents disagreeing. Support jumped to 70 per cent in the southern constituencies that make up the blue wall.

It’s easy to imagine that in the current difficulties, the public will stick to the notion that “charity begins at home”. But the fieldwork for this poll was carried out in July, as the cost-of-living crisis began to seriously bite. The findings send the unmistakable message that the British people are passionate about improving global health.

Next month, the Global Fund will ask the UK to pledge £1.82 billion for the next three year’s of life-saving programmes. This represents just 0.02 per cent of GDP per year, an amount barely noticeable when compared to the hundreds of billions spent on welfare and domestic health annually. Not only will this continue the fight against the three diseases but also making the world’s weakest health systems stronger and more resilient.

There is a pressing moral case to back the funding. Equally-enlightened self-interest also makes a case for fully replenishing the Global Fund’s finances. The British public gets that. Politicians who seek to understand and reflect what the public expects of them should seize the opportunity to cement victory over these killers, and earn the respect and gratitude of voters.

Published on The Times (August 24, 2022)