Ray Collins on the importance of universal health coverage in tackling Ebola and other viruses
While there have now been over 13,700 officially registered Ebola cases and around 5,000 deaths, the true figure is estimated to be two to three times higher. In Liberia, a slowdown has recently been noted with fewer burials and some empty beds in treatment centres. Experts however, say the numbers could easily rise again.
I met recently with DfID Secretary Justine Greening and her department’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Chris Whitty, for an informal briefing on the government’s role in the international response to the outbreak. It was also an opportunity to hear more about the DfID’s work on the ground in Sierra Leone.
In the areas for which the UK has responsibility, the government’s response on the ground has been fast and effective. I also welcome the decision to provide over £200 million for trials developing new treatments and vaccines, working alongside a range of partners from both the public and private sectors. This crisis underscores the importance of investing in a strong system of research and development for global health.
The fundamental lesson though is that we don’t know what else is around the corner in terms of other viruses and other infections. It is also possible that efforts in those countries affected by the outbreak risk setting us back on gains made against malaria, as health systems have been pushed to breaking point and people avoid using them because they fear contracting Ebola. In 2012, malaria killed 7000 people in these countries – most of them children. It is really important that UK Ministers takes steps to ensure we are offering other health services in West Africa, alongside containing and eliminating the virus.
For the countries affected, the long-term impacts could be catastrophic. Therefore, the UK and the global community need to adopt longer term strategies to ensure other local services, such as education and local markets, are not severely impacted.
Our Party has called for universal health care coverage to be placed at the centre of global development. In the Lords, the government, through a DfID Minister’s response to an earlier question of mine, announced it supports the development of health systems in developing countries. But the UK – birthplace and home of the NHS – is still against making such access to services an explicit goal at the United Nations.
Lord Ray Collins of Highbury is Shadow DfID Minister in the House of Lords. He tweets @Lord_Collins
Published 6th November 2014