Source: The Guardian
Tabitha Muikali is 32 years old. She lives in Kibera, a slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Last year her eldest son, John, contracted pneumonia. For a month he lay in agony, battling the disease; no one could help him. It was a fight, ultimately, that he did not win. He was just a year old.
But now there’s new hope for mothers like Tabitha. In January this year, a new pneumococcal vaccine was introduced to Kenya. Health workers at the Langata District Health Centre in Kibera have been attending one-day training sessions, learning how to administer the doses. And mothers like Tabitha have been queuing up to vaccinate their children, to avoid the misery of seeing a child die from a disease which is entirely preventable.
Who is powering this life-changing initiative? You. Your money, your taxes, are helping to keep programmes like the one at Langata District Health Centre alive – and giving new hope to mothers like Tabitha.
At a time when we are making spending cuts at home, our decision to protect our aid budget abroad is a controversial one. But I am convinced it is right for two reasons.
First, a moral reason. In the time it takes to read this article, 15 children in the world’s poorest countries will die from a preventable disease like diarrhoea or pneumonia. We would not stand for that at home. And we should not stand for it anywhere, especially as Britain has the tools, the expertise, and yes, the money, to stop it happening.
I don’t believe it would be right to ignore the difference we can make, turn inwards solely to our own problems and effectively balance our books while breaking our promises to the world’s poorest. Instead, we should step up, deliver on our promises to the world’s poorest and help save millions of lives. In four years’ time, because of the decisions we have taken and the responsibilities we have assumed, we will not just have paid down the deficit. We will also have vaccinated more of the world’s poorest children than there are people in the whole of England. I think everyone should be proud of that.
Second, a hard-headed reason. Meeting our international aid commitments is profoundly in our own national interest. If we invest in countries before they become broken, we might not end up spending so much on the problems that result. If we had put a fraction of our current military spending on Afghanistan into helping Afghanistan develop 20 years ago, just think what we might have been able to avoid over the past decade.
So it is in our national interest not just to deal with the symptoms of conflict when they arise, but also to prevent that conflict by addressing the underlying causes – poverty, disease and lack of opportunity. This is where our aid programme comes in. By investing in education abroad, we can give young people different choices and chances in life. By helping countries develop economically and politically, we reduce the pressures that lead to instability, and build new markets for trade and growth.
But to unleash the full potential for growth, we first have to turn the tide of disease. There can not really be any effective development – economic or political – while there are still millions of people dying unnecessarily.
That is why I believe we are right to protect our aid budget. But that is not enough on its own. We also have to make sure we get value for our money. In the past too much aid has been badly spent. It is right to be angry about that. But it is wrong to think the way to respond is to walk away from aid altogether.
The answer is to do development differently: to introduce proper transparency and accountability into how aid money is spent. And without being hard-hearted, to be hard-headed about what aid can achieve, really focused on the things that are measurable, verifiable and results driven. That is what we are doing. And it is why tomorrow we will increase our support for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation to stop children like John dying from totally preventable diseases.
The British people are not prone to self-aggrandising. But I think there are times when we should acknowledge the good that we do. Britain is keeping its promises, protecting its aid budget and giving hope to Tabitha and millions of others like her. That says something about this country. And it is something we should be proud of.