Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Baroness Alison Suttie Writes: International Aid Success In Cambodia

I have very vivid memories of hearing about the atrocities in Cambodia as a schoolchild. I remember being shocked by the pictures of human bones and skulls scattered in the fields and hearing of an appalling dictator called Pol Pot. Like many others of my generation, I took part in a "bring and buy" sale for the Blue Peter Cambodia Appeal. By the time Pol Pot was defeated around a quarter of the population had died, there were only around 50 doctors left alive and the health care system was effectively destroyed.

Visiting with Labour and Conservative colleagues two weeks ago on a health delegation arranged by RESULTS UK I was able to see first-hand the remarkable progress that has been achieved since fighting ended in Cambodia twenty years ago.

Cambodia is a success story for international aid. The country has benefited from assistance from many countries and now is much more self-sufficient. Although the UK bilateral aid programme has now ended, UK funding is still very important through big global 'basket funds' for vaccinations, AIDS, TB and other programmes.

One area where we saw particularly good progress was in the vaccination rate. Ten years ago only 60% of children were being reached by vaccinations. Today the coverage has gone up to 95%.

In one health centre we spoke to Boran Satya, who had brought in her grandchild for her measles vaccination. She proudly showed us her grand-daughter's Child Health Monitoring card and told us how important these vaccinations were - something she explained that had never happened in her childhood.

The immunisation programme is an example of effective pooling of funds in a global pot. The Global Alliance for Vaccinations (GAVI) supports the poorest countries with the cost of vaccines. For example, the Cambodian health ministry will pay 38% of the cost of its new immunisation programme while donors will pay the rest. As the economy improves Cambodia will gradually pay an increasing percentage.

The Coalition Government is a major supporter of GAVI - the Department for International Development (DFID) has been the largest global contributor during the last five years. Donors will meet later this year to discuss the budget for the next five years. I hope that DFID continues to support GAVI at a level of £200 million a year for the next five years.

I also met a wonderful young woman called Teth Mani and her baby, Nanda. Teth is HIV positive but receives free treatment from a local hospital. Supported by the health ministry and UNICEF the HIV team provide Teth with two pills a day and quarterly check-ups. Fortunately she is perfectly healthy at present.

What is most encouraging though is that her baby Nanda is HIV negative. As the doctor explained to us, five years ago Teth would have been taking a big risk to have a child. Most babies were born HIV positive and would only live a few years. But now, thanks to a simple drug administered at the right time, we can prevent transmission from parent to child.

Cambodia has reduced HIV prevalence from 1.8% to 0.7% . But that still means tens of thousands of HIV positive people. In the long term the only way to beat HIV/AIDS is to develop an AIDS vaccine. The world is still some way off this target. But with British universities and clinical centres at the forefront of health research we can be cautiously optimistic that a solution will be found. For a country like Cambodia we can be proud of the support we have given so far. The UK should continue this support for some years to come, with well-planned and sustainable funding programmes.