Keeping the fight going against malaria and hepatitis

Saturday 23rd April 2016

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John Mann, a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases and Labour MP for Bassetlaw

Since the establishment in 2000 of the Millennium Development Goals, great strides have been made in combating poverty and disease around the world. However, without a clear commitment to maintain this level of progress, we could easily slip back and allow diseases such as malaria and hepatitis to reverse our successes in combating them.

The UK is right at the forefront of the fight against malaria and hepatitis, and the work carried out by the Department for International Development – alongside major drug companies, such as GSK, and organisations on the ground – is making a real difference. The malaria parasite is still killing an estimated 660,000 people a year, the majority, of which, are, sadly, children less than five years of age, born in sub-Saharan Africa. The advances made through the widespread use of chemically treated nets to sleep in, and the development of early diagnostic tests and vaccines, has saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

Yet the malaria parasite is adapting and changing and so we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. The specially treated nets that have played such a visible role in fighting the disease only have a three year life span – they are not a one stop fix. As a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases, I visited Tanzania with other members of the group and saw, at first hand, the work being carried out there to develop new vaccines.

Funding from the British Government has increased substantially over the past 15 years – from £100 million in 2000 to £500 million in 2014. It has also been supporting companies in the production of a new generation of anti-malarial drugs called Artemisinin Combination Therapies, or ACTs for short. It has also recently announced the establishment of the Ross Fund, which is a new initiative to combat malaria and is named after the first ever British Nobel Laureate. The Government has pledged £1 billion to the fund to continue the fight against malaria.

Whilst the fight against malaria is one that grabs the headlines, when it comes to the fight against hepatitis in its various forms, the picture is more complicated. The ways in which we combat the most prevalent form of the disease also requires a slightly less high tech approach to malaria. Very simply, one of the most successful ways to combat Hepatitis A is proper plumbing and sanitation. Hepatitis A is caught when a person consumes contaminated food or water, something which proper plumbing, sewage and sanitation practices would all but eradicate.

There is, of course, a vaccine for Hepatitis A which many British nationals have before travelling to countries where the disease is common, but, sadly, for Hepatitis B and C, there is no cure, only medication to offset the effects of the disease.

In developing nations, 90 per cent of children have been infected with Hepatitis A, a figure that is just simply too high – in the 21st century, we should not be exposing millions of children to drinking water that is not clean.

Malaria and hepatitis not only kill hundreds of thousands of people but they also have a detrimental impact on the economic output in countries where the diseases are rife. Reducing cases and deaths from malaria by 90 per cent would create an extra $4.1 trillion in new, economic output. That is not only good news for those individual countries but also good news for the UK, as it creates millions more potential consumers for our goods and more potential trade partners.

It makes sense from not only a moral standpoint but also an economic one to maintain the fight against the diseases. Huge strides have been made in the past twenty years, and it is vital that now we are finally winning the war against the diseases, we maintain our current efforts and eventually rid the world of these cruel, debilitating illnesses.

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