Eagle Eye (indyeagleeye) wrote,
Eagle Eye

Douglas Alexander: Ignore the voguish nonsense. Aid works

Every year British taxpayers are helping save the lives of millions of people in the developing world. They are doing so because their money is being carefully and rigorously targeted at improving health care in some of the most disadvantaged nations in the world.

As a result of the efforts of donor governments, international institutions such as the World Bank and NGOs real progress is being made. Polio, once the scourge of the poor worldwide, is on the verge of eradication, more than 4.5 million people are being treated for TB and a further three million now have access to life-saving drugs.

The UK alone will by next year have handed out 20 million bednets to combat malaria - which we estimate will prevent 110,000 child deaths. None of this has happened by accident. This Labour Government has trebled aid since 1997 after the Conservative Government halved it.

To claim, as Philip Stevens did in yesterday's Independent, that millions of pounds are somehow being flung at wasteful and corrupt governments is plain wrong.
The UK does indeed channel cash through governments into health care. We measure effectiveness by results and we are confident that we are getting bang for our buck.

It is simply not credible to bypass governments if the Millennium Development Goals are to be met. The only way to cut dependence on aid - an aim we all share - is to allow the governments of developing countries to build up their own health services. To do otherwise would be like pouring water into a desert. The money would swiftly be soaked up in projects which would have no lasting benefits. By channelling the money through governments we allow them to develop their capacity to provide sustainable health care based on their own priorities.

We are not, however, blinded by dogma and in states where there is no stable government we do find different ways of helping the sick. Aid goes much wider than supporting the building of clinics and training doctors and nurses. It’s also about helping patients receive treatment.

Gordon Brown announced at the United Nations in New York in September that six countries, with UK support, would abolish the fees that put basic health care beyond the reach of millions of poor people. The abolition of fees in Ghana has had a dramatic impact on maternal mortality because pregnant mothers are turning up at clinics instead of giving birth without medical supervision at home.

An important part of the international effort is also directed at preventing the conditions which lead to illness. So the UK has pledged to spend more than £1 billion over five years to improve water and sanitation across Africa. We are helping to get millions of children into school in dozens of countries because education is widely recognised as a route out of poverty. An educated population will in general be better informed about health risks and better able to tackle them by maximising their earning potential.

It is regrettably fashionable to decry the extraordinary strides in tackling poverty over the past 20 years. The unpalatable truth is that aid is an easy target because poor whose lives it has transformed cannot answer back.

But there is no room for complacency. The challenges ahead are massive and it will be a struggle to meet the Millennium Development Goals. They will only be met by a concerted alliance between the governments of both rich and poor nations, the big international institutions and the NGOs. That is why I welcome confirmation in yesterday's Queen's Speech that Labour will enshrine the promises we made to the world's poor.

The author is Secretary of State for International Development



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