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Health Services

Volume 464: debated on Wednesday 17 October 2007

The UK is improving health in Africa through multilateral aid, including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and through bilateral programmes. Fifteen per cent. of DFID’s aid goes to health, totalling some £800 million this year, which will rise as the DFID programme expands towards our target spending of 0.7 per cent. of gross national income by 2013. Last month, the UK launched an international health partnership to improve the effectiveness of international funding for health. Five of the IHP’s first-wave countries are in Africa. They are Ethiopia, Zambia, Mozambique, Kenya and Burundi.

I thank my hon. Friend for that response. I am aware that in Mozambique, for example, those who suffer from HIV/AIDS sometimes face the problem that, even if they have access to antiretroviral drugs, supplies run out and the treatment cannot be sustained. Equally, some people are faced with a stark choice of either paying for their drugs or buying food. What can DFID do to ensure that those who access treatment are sustained on it?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The UK is absolutely committed to the challenge of HIV/AIDS. That was one of the key elements of the agreement at Gleneagles. DFID has committed some £17 million in support to the Ministry of Health in Mozambique. That will help to improve, among other things, HIV/AIDS treatment, including the scaling up of access to antiretrovirals. Therefore, some progress is being made. In sub-Saharan Africa, the numbers on treatment rose tenfold from 2003 to 2006, from 100,000 to over 1.3 million. However, with only one in four in Africa able to access HIV/AIDS treatment, much more needs to be done.

Given that we are off track to meet the millennium development goal on maternal health—on the current trajectory, not only will we not meet it by 2015 but we will probably not do so in the next 100 years—what more can the Government do?

That challenge is recognised throughout Government. Recently our Prime Minister met the Norwegian Prime Minister to look at an initiative to deal with that problem. Africa is the continent with the highest maternal mortality rate—there are 830 deaths per 100,000 live births. All our programmes focus on those issues. I go back to the point that I made earlier: ultimately, the UK is one player. It is by different donor countries coming together that we will have the kind of impact that I know we would all like to see.

When I visited Swaziland three years ago, we were told by the Health Minister there that Swaziland had the highest incidence of AIDS in the whole world at 43 per cent., yet thousands of doctors and nurses from Swaziland were leaving to practise abroad. What help and encouragement can the Department give to doctors and nurses from Africa who are working in the west to return to Africa to help in the fight against AIDS?

Brain drain is a high-profile concern for Africa, and a major migration and development concern for the African Union. We in this country have a code of practice under which we will not attempt to recruit health workers from countries whose Governments suggest that that might be detrimental. We are currently looking into this matter via the Global Health Workforce Alliance, which is chaired by Lord Nigel Crisp. The Secretary of State has already met him and discussions are taking place. This issue is of the utmost importance to the Government.

According to Save the Children, the lives of 800 children a day could be saved if their parents did not have to pay for essential health care. Will the Department work with non-governmental organisations and civil society to ensure that the health partnership translates into real action on the ground?

We are absolutely in favour of sustainable partnerships of that kind, which is why the Prime Minister launched the international health partnership only in September. Its aim is to make improvements in the area that the hon. Gentleman raises, and to work on the concerns that he and others have articulated.

All the evidence suggests that educating women in sexual health not only leads to later pregnancy but has a direct and positive impact on the economic performance of their country. What is the Department doing to promote sexual health awareness in Africa?

DFID is carrying out research into sex education. We are funding a community randomised control trial in Tanzania to inform us about the health impact of different adolescent sexual health interventions—we are investing £1.4 million in that. I recently visited Yemen where the population growth rate is such that it will double in 16 years; we are concentrating there on education for young girls, which will have an impact. Education, including sexual education, is vital in dealing with such matters.

Further to the question of the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), the Minister will know that many British health professionals want to make a personal contribution in poor countries but are too often discouraged from doing so because time spent abroad is not accredited and therefore adversely affects pension accrual, for example. Will the Minister look closely at the policy that my party has proposed to set up a health systems partnership fund? That would make a modest but useful contribution to helping in this area.

The hon. Gentleman may be aware that we were already looking at that issue prior to his party’s announcement. I am happy to inform him that Lord Nigel Crisp, chair of the Global Health Workforce Alliance, is looking into the issue, and that the Secretary of State has already met him.

The Minister will know that our proposals would enable British health professionals to spend time in developing countries helping to build sustainable health systems. The proposals have been supported by VSO and many other NGOs, including the Tropical Health and Education Trust. As the Minister’s party is clearly in the mood for nicking Conservative policies, will he make it a priority to implement as soon as possible our health systems partnership fund?

I think that I have already alluded to the fact that, regardless of whether they are ours or are borrowed from elsewhere, we will pass forward all good ideas to Lord Nigel Crisp, who will be looking into these matters. On nicking ideas, the hon. Gentleman will next be telling us that the target of 0.7 per cent. of GNI by 2013 was his party’s idea.