One of the questions I'm asked quite a lot as Chief Executive of international NGO, Lepra, is why we provide support to India. The inference behind that is the more general question of why some middle income countries still need aid from the UK.
This is a question I fully understand, especially when it comes to India. Their economy is fast becoming the second largest in the world and they have a space programme, so why would we dedicate our money and resources to help those living there?
Well, while things are certainly improving, India hasn't yet caught us up. Yes, India's annual income is bigger than ours but their population also is around 15 times larger. When you divide India's income by its population, it only works out that each person has on average $3 per day. That's in stark contrast to the UK where we average out at $113 per person per day, and we all know the further disparities that averages can conceal.
India is home to 17% of the world's population and one third of the world's extreme poor. Although people believe it to be a rich country, the scale of poverty is vast. The states in which we work are amongst the poorest areas in the world, like Bihar. This Indian state has a population of more than 100 million - if it were a country, it would be the third poorest in the world because 80% of people live below the poverty line.
As a country with a history of generous giving, why would we not help those less fortunate than ourselves? Not to do so feels to me a bit like not providing support to a family in need in the UK because there are rich people living in the same street.
Of course that can mean donating more money and offering aid, but it can also mean providing knowledge. Our government can offer insight from our own experiences to developing economies and governments so that they are better equipped to tackle the global issues of disease, poverty and prejudice.
When it comes to our work in neglected diseases that's exactly what we do. We identify solutions to problems, strengthen the local government health systems by training local staff to detect the various signs of disease and encourage the government to eventually take over the services we provide.
This year alone in Bangladesh, three of the referral centres we set up are being taken over by government. They have recognised the importance of the diagnostic services and physiotherapy we have been providing to those affected by diseases like leprosy, and are able to now fund and run those facilities themselves. This was always our intention when we established the project and it shows that there are methods of helping others that are sustainable and don't just require a never-ending monetary hand out.
Looking at India and specifically at leprosy, for us it's very simple. 60% of the global burden of leprosy lies in India. The country also accounts for 24% of the world's total number of people with tuberculosis and 30% of lymphatic filariasis. Therefore it makes sense that we, as a charity tackling neglected diseases, work there.
We believe, as I'm sure most of the British public do, that no one should be doomed to a miserable life because they live in the 'wrong' country, are from the 'wrong' caste or ethnic group or the 'wrong' gender. Just because a country is doing better than it once was does not mean that all those issues of poverty, inequality and disease are gone and as long as such problems do exist, we should be working together to tackle them. That's why we at Lepra will continue to work there and ensure that we push the government to provide necessary basic services to all.
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