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Ebola

Volume 592: debated on Wednesday 4 February 2015

5. What the cost has been of the UK’s contribution to the response to the Ebola outbreak to date. (907431)

The UK has committed £325 million to tackling the Ebola crisis. The UK is leading the international response to the crisis in Sierra Leone by diagnosing and isolating Ebola cases more quickly, trebling the number of treatment beds, supporting burial teams, and assisting in the research for a vaccine.

Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that at the recent London conference, Britain was able to persuade other Governments to contribute financially? Does she agree that we should be proud of the hugely positive contribution made by Great Britain through DFID’s budget—symbolised by Nurse Cafferkey and others with medical and other expertise—to resolving the Ebola outbreak?

Yes; the international effort has involved not only financial assistance from a host of countries, but assistance in kind from countries such as Australia which is helping to set up Ebola treatment centres. I pay tribute to the work done across the Government, not just in my Department. As my hon. Friend says, vital work has been done by Public Health England, NHS workers and our amazing Ministry of Defence and soldiers who have done an incredible job. Without their efforts none of this would have been possible, and thanks to them we are now turning the corner.

The right hon. Lady’s permanent secretary told the Public Accounts Committee that one of the key lessons of Ebola was the need for more research and development on vaccines. Between 2008 and 2013, Britain gave £40 million to support the work of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. I understand that IAVI’s research contributed to the science that led to the fast-track Ebola vaccines, yet she has slashed the UK’s support for IAVI from £40 million to just £5 million for 2013 to 2018. Does she regret that 86% cut?

No, I do not. The hon. Lady talks about the science, but we stopped funding the vaccine research because the basic science to support a vaccine was not in place. To have continued putting money into this research, when the early indications were that it was not going to deliver a vaccine, would not only have been a waste of money, but done a disservice to our investment into tackling AIDS. I should also point out that, in 2009-10, the Government invested £249 million in tackling HIV/AIDS, but in 2013-14 we increased that by 50% to £372 million.

I do not know whether the right hon. Lady heard me say that IAVI’s research contributed to some of the science that led to the Ebola vaccine. The point of research is that it builds knowledge.

The world must never again be left so exposed to Ebola. The good news that Ebola infections are falling in Liberia has meant that the trial of Brincidofovir as a drug therapy for Ebola was halted last Friday. Does the right hon. Lady agree that we need urgently to roll out the Ebola vaccine trials from Liberia to Sierra Leone and Guinea to discover which vaccine works?

I am not sure whether the hon. Lady is aware, but we have worked hand in hand with the Medical Research Council and GlaxoSmithKline to help those trials to come forward faster. In fact, the Minister for Government Policy and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster , my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Oliver Letwin), has played a pivotal role internationally in ensuring that those trials could progress. It would be more constructive if she asked some relevant questions, rather than scoring pointless political points.