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International Development

Volume 675: debated on Wednesday 29 April 2020

The Secretary of State was asked—

Covid-19: Developing Countries

I would first like to put on record my congratulations and that of all in the House on the safe arrival of the Prime Minister and Carrie Symonds’s son this morning.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House with the following announcement. The coronavirus pandemic shows the vital role that vaccines play in protecting us against disease. The UK is today committing new support to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. The UK’s pledge of the equivalent of £330 million a year for the next five years continues our leadership and commitment to global health security. The UK’s pledge will help to ensure the delivery of life-saving vaccinations in 68 countries, saving lives and strengthening health systems. It will therefore help to protect the UK and our NHS from future waves of coronavirus. I look forward to the UK-hosted Vaccine Alliance summit on 4 June, which will help to raise all the funds that Gavi needs to vaccinate 300 million children and save up to 8 million lives.

The United Nations has warned that the world is at risk of widespread famine “of biblical proportions”, with the number suffering from hunger potentially rising from 135 million to 250 million due to coronavirus. What discussions is the Secretary of State having across the international community to work to alleviate this humanitarian catastrophe?

Coronavirus is a global crisis that knows no borders and will have a profound effect on all countries, including the most vulnerable. That is why the UK is leading the international response and providing £744 million of UK aid to counter the health, humanitarian and economic impacts. I have mobilised my Department and our country offices to do whatever it takes to help tackle this pandemic and the secondary risks. We have the funding, the expertise and the British determination to stand by our friends in developing countries to prevent a second wave of infection.

During the coronavirus pandemic, it is imperative that countries and communities engage co-operatively with one another to avoid a scramble to procure goods, personal protective equipment and medical equipment and ensure that there is not a worldwide shortage that prices out the world’s most vulnerable. In the light of the announcement made by the President of the United States about ending funding to the World Health Organisation, can the Secretary of State outline what representations she and her Government have made to him regarding the need to follow collaborative principles, which will benefit us all?

The UK has confidence in the WHO and the work that it is doing globally to bring together every country to do the best they can to look after their communities and citizens. The WHO is co-ordinating PPE for all those countries, and we are supporting it by putting funding into the central pot, so that it can ensure that the countries that are most in need will have the PPE that they require.

Covid-19: Aid Programmes

What assessment she has made of the effect of the covid-19 pandemic on the (a) delivery and (b) effectiveness of UK aid programmes and projects. (902039)

What steps she is taking to ensure the effectiveness of international development assistance during the covid-19 pandemic. (902043)

What assessment she has made of the adequacy of the level of funding made available by her Department to tackle the covid-19 pandemic overseas. (902057)

There is no country better equipped to help the world out of this crisis than the UK. Over the past 10 years, this Government have made the Department for International Development a global leader in international development and reaffirmed its commitment as one of the world’s biggest development donors. It is no surprise that the UK is at the forefront of the global response and has committed up to £744 million of UK aid so far, including the highest level of funding for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to find a vaccine. We are working with other donors and refocusing our programmes on the urgent response to coronavirus.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s Gavi announcement. Does she agree that the long-term outlook for DFID’s joint funding of vaccine research projects—with, for example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—will be more secure with a separate international aid department than if DFID were merged into the Foreign Office?

Our response to covid-19, including on vaccines, treatments and testing, is a great example of joint working between DFID and the FCO, as well as with Department of Health and Social Care and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy experts. We are able to combine our world-class diplomatic network with DFID’s global leadership on development. We are proud of the UK’s close partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, including on the Wellcome therapeutics accelerator initiative, to which we committed up to £40 million with the aim of bringing 100 million courses of covid-19 treatment to those who will need it the most in 2020.

I welcome DFID’s announcement on supporting efforts to curb the spread of covid-19, but we need to increase support for non-governmental organisations. They have been granted just £20 million, but say they need £100 million to move quickly and effectively to mitigate the effects of this humanitarian crisis. Today, I have sent a cross-party letter signed by more than 100 parliamentarians from both Houses calling for further funding to be made available. The world looks to the UK in terms of international response, so will the Secretary of State reconsider NGO funding?

So far, we have made commitments in three areas of funding for resilience of vulnerable countries through international appeals, from the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the UNHCR, and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, to which we have pledged £55 million. We are doing a £100 million project with Unilever, for which DFID is providing £50 million, to help to reach more than 1 billion people with sanitation training and tools. That goes alongside more than £300 million which we are providing for vaccines and therapeutics. DFID continues to lead the way forward in how all countries must help to tackle this great invisible killer.

With virtually no testing capabilities, limited supplies of ventilators and scarce hospital beds, the impact of the coronavirus on the millions of refugees who are living in overcrowded camps will be catastrophic. Since my letter highlighting this state of affairs at the start of the month, what steps has the Secretary of State taken to increase spaces for screening, isolation and quarantine for the world’s most vulnerable people?

In these early stages, DFID has led the world in its commitment to supporting organisations that can reach in to the most vulnerable communities, including the Refugee Council. We have provided £75 million to the WHO, £25 million to UNICEF and £20 million to the UNHCR as initial commitments to help those who we hope are most able to reach the most vulnerable as quickly as possible.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Bond’s recent covid-19 survey reveals that 86% of UK NGO members are cutting back or considering cutting back in-country work, so how is DFID making sure that 30 years of work in alleviating poverty does not unravel as health systems come under more strain in lower-income countries?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. There is a real challenge for those of us who are committed to helping vulnerable countries to become stronger and more self-sufficient. We have had to bring some of our team home, but many are still in country. We are finding as many ways as possible to support in-country work on the economic and the healthcare sides, to make sure that those countries do not fall over and that the work that has painstakingly been built up to help them to develop in strength and self-sufficiency does not go backward.

East Africa: Food Security

The devastating locust outbreak in east Africa has paralysed communities that are already facing the daily threat of starvation. With British expertise and funding, we are supporting the international effort to track, stop and kill dangerous swarms of locusts. With rising temperatures driving the infestations, Britain is stepping up to help vulnerable communities to prepare for and adapt to the catastrophic impact of climate change.

As the Secretary of State says, millions of people in east Africa already live with food insecurity, and poor seasonal rains recently have been followed by the locust infestation. Can the Secretary of State use the DFID budget to provide urgent food aid of nutritional quality to people who, through no fault of their own, face the most basic problem?

DFID programmes are supporting enhanced regional trade and access to nutritional food in east Africa. In Ethiopia, the UK is supporting the productive safety net programme to provide food and cash to 8 million of the poorest people, and the UK’s recent £12 million contribution to UNICEF will provide malnourished children with nutritious food. We continue to work with Governments in the region to ensure that essential supplies reach those in need.

Covid-19: Education for Girls

What assessment she has made of the effect of the covid-19 pandemic on the Government’s commitment to ensure that girls receive 12 years of quality education throughout the world. (902042)

The Government are steadfast in our commitment to ensuring that girls throughout the world receive 12 years of quality education. As well as supporting multilateral education programmes, the UK Girls’ Education Challenge, which has projects that span 17 of the world’s poorest countries and reaches over a million marginalised girls, is responding to the current pandemic. British expertise is working so that schools are able to reopen without further delay when it is safe to do so.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, whether in Dudley or Malawi, one of the key success factors impacting on children’s education is that parents understand the value of education? If so, what is the Government’s approach in relation to that specific point?

As we all know, parents are a key success factor in children’s learning around the world. UK aid programmes draw on evidence that shows that school attendance and learning can improve when parents and children know about the benefits of education to incomes and when they have local information about the choice of school quality. DFID programmes also address the cost and time barriers to education, especially for girls, to promote the vital role of teachers in children’s learning.

Ebola showed the wider impact of infectious diseases on women, because schools closed and teenage pregnancies spiked, but the impact of covid-19 will be even greater in overpopulated refugee camps. In Bangladesh, nearly 1 million Rohingya now live in cramped conditions in Cox’s Bazar, with 70,000 people per square kilometre. In that tiny area, women’s education suffers, but gender-based violence will also rise—similar to the current pattern in the United Kingdom. What specific action is the Secretary of State taking to deal with that issue?

The covid crisis has removed 1.5 billion children from school, putting the most disadvantaged girls at risk of dropping out of school permanently. School closures will significantly reduce learning hours, particularly for the most disadvantaged children, and we risk many dropping out permanently. Prior to the crisis, 258 million children and young people globally were already out of school—over half of them girls. The Ebola crisis showed us that female pupils bear the brunt of school closures during disease outbreaks, leading to higher levels of sexual exploitation, abuse, teenage pregnancy and early marriage, so we will continue to prioritise education for all as part of the international response.

Covid-19: Research

What steps the Government are taking to support innovative research in (a) the UK and (b) throughout the world in the development of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics for covid-19. (902041)

What steps she is taking to ensure that a vaccine developed for covid-19 will be available globally on an equitable and affordable basis. (902044)

What steps the Government are taking to support innovative research in (a) the UK and (b) throughout the world in the development of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics for covid-19. (902047)

Science can help us to deal with this crisis. To date, the UK has committed more than £330 million to innovative research and development of vaccines, rapid diagnostics and promising therapeutics for the coronavirus. The UK is the world’s top donor to CEPI, which is helping to produce a vaccine, including at Oxford and Imperial. We are also funding innovative research on virus tests and antibody tests right here in the UK, which could be suitable for use in developing countries. On Friday, the UK proudly stood with the WHO, the UN and 20 countries to work for global access to vaccines to end the pandemic, save lives and start the global economic recovery.

Carshalton and Wallington residents know that the development of a coronavirus vaccine is the greatest opportunity to save lives across the world. Will the Minister confirm that the UK is one of the largest global donors to the international Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which is at the fore- front of this global research?

I can confirm that the UK Government have committed £250 million to the international Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI, to rapidly develop coronavirus vaccines. This is the largest contribution of any country to CEPI’s covid-19 efforts to date, and it is a major contribution to global efforts to accelerate vaccine discovery. In ensuring that a vaccine is available to all, including the world’s poorest countries, we are asking all Governments to contribute to this important international goal as a down payment against the wider funding needs of the covid-19 response.

We have all witnessed the battle for access to the drug Orkambi for children in this country. What consideration have the Government given to requests for a patent-free vaccine, thus ensuring that the millions of pounds ploughed in by British taxpayers recognise the truly global nature of the crisis and secure a vaccine for all, rather than a fight over excessive pricing and huge profits for four or five pharmaceutical corporations?

This is a very important point because of course a globally accessible vaccine, alongside effective tests and treatments, is needed to end this global pandemic and to start global economic recovery. This will need unprecedented global collaboration and resourcing to drive the speed and scale that are needed, and the UK is at the forefront of global efforts to meet this challenge. Now is the time for us to come together to develop and deliver vaccines, tests and treatments that are safe, effective, affordable and accessible to all.

The UK is the World Health Organisation’s second largest funder, yet that agency has been found wanting and subject to political interference by the Chinese Communist party. After this pandemic, will the Government look at a new world health order, as suggested by the recent Foreign Affairs Committee report?

My hon. Friend is right to recognise that international co-operation is absolutely vital to tackle covid-19. That is why we are working with the WHO and other international organisations to develop and deliver a globally accessible vaccine, alongside effective tests and treatments, and because of this we want to ensure they are safe, effective, affordable and accessible for all, including the world’s poorest.

This week is World Immunisation Week. Every year millions of lives are saved thanks to immunisations, and it is recognised widely as one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions. With DFID funding going into the global effort to tackle this health crisis, can the Secretary of State explain what safeguards she has implemented to ensure that UK public contributions to the research into and development of covid-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines will be guaranteed to every person, and to assure the British public that public money is not just going into lining the pockets of big pharmaceutical companies?

Of course, while we are focusing on covid-19, there is the broader issue of vaccines. The UK is already one of the biggest global donors. To date, we have pledged £744 million to support the international response to covid-19. We have also funded £40 million for the Wellcome and Mastercard therapeutics accelerator initiative, up to £23 million for the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, and up to £5 million through the joint initiative on research for epidemic preparedness. Because we are faced with a global pandemic, we absolutely need an international response, and it is about making sure that vaccines reach all those who need them.

Covid-19: Overseas Territories

What steps her Department is taking to support the overseas territories to tackle the covid-19 pandemic. (902050)

We will always stand by the overseas territories. A range of Government Departments, led by DFID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, are supporting the overseas territories to mitigate the impact of the pandemic. Support includes essential medical supplies, public health advice, security and access support, and financial aid to mitigate the economic impact in the most vulnerable territories.

The Royal Navy is providing a pivotal role in providing medical assistance to British overseas territories. Will the Minister join me in recognising the dedication and skill of the servicemen and women of RFA Argus, which is providing that medical assistance to the Caribbean?

I know that my hon. Friend takes a keen interest in defence matters, and I absolutely do agree that the Royal Navy continues to provide great service to the territories, particularly in the Caribbean. I, too, commend the servicemen and women of RFA Argus, who are providing vital support to the overseas territories. RFA Argus is boosting the resilience of the territories as they prepare for hurricane season. The FCO and DFID are providing further support to the territories to help deal with the impact of covid-19. In addition, an MOD security assistance team will be supporting local authorities in some of the territories as they respond to the coronavirus.

Developing Countries: Sanitation and Hygiene

What recent steps she has taken to help ensure that people in developing countries have adequate access to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities during the covid-19 pandemic. (902053)

Hand washing with soap and water, as we are all recognising, is the first line of defence against coronavirus transmission. The UK has world-leading commercial and scientific expertise on water, sanitation and hygiene. DFID has launched a £100 million scheme with British soap company Unilever to promote hygiene in developing countries, and has given a further £20 million to UNICEF to strengthen its coronavirus response in these areas. We are helping people around the world to defeat this virus.

The International Rescue Committee has highlighted that hand-washing facilities are absolutely crucial in preventing the spread of diseases in the developing world. Our experience of Ebola shows that NGOs currently working on the ground are best placed to scale up an emergency response, so I welcome the funding given to the Red Cross and others, but what plans does the Secretary of State have to increase funding to other local NGOs working within communities?

Good hygiene is the single most effective action an individual can take to prevent covid-19 transmission; that is absolutely an important point. Water sanitation and hygiene are a key part of DFID’s work and vital in humanitarian crises. DFID funds the provision of safe water and sanitation in disaster areas across the globe. Since 2015, DFID has helped over 51 million poor people in Africa and Asia get access to a drinking water supply or toilet for the first time. But we recognise there is still more to do.

Covid-19: Nutrition Programmes

What steps her Department is taking to ensure that nutrition programmes are integrated into the global response to the covid-19 pandemic. (902054)

The UK has long been a world leader when it comes to nutrition, which is why I am looking forward to supporting the Nutrition for Growth summit later this year. We are working hard to stop poor diets making people in developing countries more vulnerable to coronavirus, and we will not allow malnutrition to exacerbate the crisis. For example, we are working through UNICEF to get life-saving supplies to treat acute malnutrition in children across the Sahel, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen.

As the Minister said, malnourished people are clearly at a greater risk of serious health problems due to coronavirus than healthy people. How is DFID specifically supporting its partners to adapt their nutritional programmes in the light of covid-19 and working to minimise disruption to supply chains so that we do not see a surge in malnutrition cases?

This is an important point. We know that for every percentage point contraction in global GDP from covid-19 we would expect to see as a result, sadly, up to an additional 4 million stunted children, and acute malnutrition is likely to increase. Between 2015 and March 2019, DFID reached 50.6 million women, adolescent girls and young children with nutrition services in 25 countries, and this includes life-saving treatment for acute malnutrition.

Global Supply Chains

Keeping supply chains open is essential for British consumers to access what they need. It will also help British business to bounce back quickly. We must protect the lives and livelihoods of people in developing countries who work in those supply chains, so we are working across Government within the G20, the World Trade Organisation and the World Bank on development-focused trade support, including flows of medical supplies. We are also working with British business to support vulnerable communities overseas that provide goods to the UK.

Domestic and international supply lines will clearly be crucial to the economic recovery of both ourselves and the world as we bounce back from coronavirus. Is the Minister working with colleagues from the Department for Transport and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to also support logistics firms such as those in my constituency and the vital role that they perform in keeping our country running and open for international business?

I thank the logistics firms across the country, particularly those in Runnymede and Weybridge, for the work that they do. This ministerial team will continue to work with the Department for International Trade to keep supply chains open so that firms can restart exporting as soon as the operating context allows. We will also work with the Department for Transport and BEIS to understand the impacts on UK logistics firms and the critical role that they play in facilitating trade.

The pandemic is affecting supply chains across the world at the moment, including those that provide vital goods to the UK and businesses in Gloucestershire. What is my hon. Friend doing to make sure that the work in the affected industries in developing countries is supported during the crisis?

We are engaging with businesses in the UK and in developing countries to understand the challenges that they face to protect incomes and livelihoods. For example, in Bangladesh, through the better jobs in Bangladesh programme, DFID will be supporting 1,000 factories and their workers to return to work safely when they are able to do so. We are also urgently examining what funding is needed and how we can have the biggest impact working in partnership with businesses and addressing these issues in the most vulnerable countries.