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Volume 506: debated on Wednesday 3 March 2010

1. When he last met representatives of relevant non-governmental organisations to discuss the control of malaria in developing countries; and if he will make a statement. (319864)

My hon. Friends the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary have both recently met Malaria No More to discuss the control of malaria in developing countries, and I regularly meet members of the Bond NGO network, which includes health and malaria-focused NGOs.

The whole House will want to celebrate the truly remarkable work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which will undoubtedly save millions of lives in the coming years. What steps are the Government taking to work closely with Mr. Gates and his foundation to maximise the effectiveness of its vital fight against malaria?

I entirely concur with the sentiments expressed in the hon. Gentleman’s question. I had the opportunity to meet Bill Gates just two or three weeks ago at Davos, when I congratulated him on the extraordinary work that the foundation is undertaking, which I thanked him for on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom. We are working very closely with the foundation, and we welcome the fact that its new office for Europe has been opened here in London. That is a reflection of the strong and strengthening work we are undertaking not only on malaria, but on a number of other diseases as well.

Given both that the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is facing a shortfall and that there will be an international conference on replenishment next October, will my right hon. Friend encourage the entire international community to make the highest possible contribution in order to save even more lives?

I pay due respect to the expertise that my right hon. Friend brings to this issue. For many years he has been a tireless advocate for the cause of tackling these preventable diseases. The global fund is undertaking important work, but it faces an international shortfall. In response to the last replenishment round, we were able to make an unprecedented commitment of £1 billion over seven years, reflecting the fact that we need to build up the sustainability of the treatments for these diseases across the developing world. I hope that in the coming replenishment round other countries will feel able to match the long-term commitments that we made in the last one.

For a number of other diseases and health issues, the Department for International Development has produced a strategic plan with detailed input from experts and civil society. Does the Secretary of State not think that we should do the same for malaria, and will he now bring the same level of attention and rigour as the Gates foundation to tackling this entirely preventable and treatable disease?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are working in close partnership with a wide range of organisations, including multilateral bodies such as the World Health Organisation, the Roll Back Malaria coalition, UNITAID and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which we have just discussed. I assure the hon. Gentleman that that partnership approach informs our work.

Given that the WHO estimates that almost half the world’s population is at risk from malaria, and following the Secretary of State’s earlier comments, will he inform the House what steps his Department is taking on the development and roll-out of a vaccine against malaria?

I can give the assurance the hon. Gentleman is seeking. We are funding research, and we are also looking at the affordability of treatments, which is key. There is certainly common ground between us in recognising the scale of the challenge we are facing. It is estimated that almost 250 million people around the world fall severely ill with malaria each year. Almost 1 million die, mostly children, and one in five child deaths in sub-Saharan Africa is still from malaria, despite the fact that in many cases treatments are available, such as malarial-treated bed nets.

Will my right hon. Friend be partnering some of the drug companies, which hold an important key in respect of speedily rolling out anti-malarial vaccines to the population? This is not rocket science. There are some cheap vaccines out there, and the drug companies ought to be playing a fuller role than they are at present.

We are working with drug companies, first, on the affordability of medicines and, secondly, on research into vaccines. In both areas, it is vital that the private sector plays its role in making sure that we provide affordable, effective treatments for this terrible disease.

Of course the international community has to work to achieve the eradication of this disease for which many cures are available—such as something as simple as ensuring that a family sleeps under a malarial-treated bed net. That is why the White Paper my Department published last July supports the delivery of 10 million more bed nets each year from 2010 to 2013. We estimate that this alone will help to prevent 165,000 child deaths from malaria.