THE BLOG
11/11/2014 03:34 GMT | Updated 06/12/2017 22:20 GMT

Best Of British: Irrefutable Reasons To Be Proud Of UK Aid

Media for Medical via Getty Images

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When Britain is congratulated for doing something extraordinary you want to hear what it is we've done. And when it comes from one of the world's most successful business leaders, Bill Gates, you might listen a little more closely to the detail. This is exactly what happened last night at a special lecture in the House of Lords where Mr Gates robustly applauded the UK's historic contributions to global health through its strong commitment to overseas aid. This can be seen with the UK's current response to the Ebola crisis. But he particularly highlighted the UK's remarkable contribution to the huge progress made in tackling malaria - the oldest and deadliest disease - which in the past 15 years has seen child deaths cut in half and over three million young lives saved.

The event, The Case for Aid: A Conversation with Bill Gates which I was delighted Malaria No More UK helped support, served to remind us of the many reasons to be proud of the Best of British, and rightly so when you consider;

British political leadership - which has been truly exceptional when it comes to overseas aid. The UK was the first G7 nation to achieve a spending level of at least 0.7% of national income on aid. The UK's role in the global fight against malaria (a disease which causes some 627,000 deaths and 207 million cases annually) has shown a lead to the world. Making malaria one of its top aid priorities, the UK is the second largest government donor to malaria with a tripling of it's funding to combat the disease between 2008-2015. And such a concerted investment has delivered both tangible results (in lives saved) and strong returns (research from the UN Special Envoy on Malaria indicates that every $1 invested in malaria control in Africa, on average, returns $40 in higher economic growth). A smart place to put political leadership and funding, malaria serves as one of the strongest proof points that aid works.

British public support - whilst we may have been facing some difficult economic times, it seems the British public remains supportive of helping the developing world. According to a poll last year 81% of us thought it was important to help people in poorer countries - we have, after all, always been a nation with real heart. And this goes for people's support of the fight against malaria as well. In recent opinion polling Malaria No More UK did, 70% of the UK public believed malaria is a serious development issue. And the same goes for the community fundraisers who are walking, running, cycling, baking and knitting for our Miles for Malaria challenge who care about the disease either because they themselves has been affected (more than 1,500 Brits suffered from malaria last year many of which were severe and caused seven deaths), or because they want to help end the preventable and needless loss of lives.

British business and innovation - knowing that business has a core part in the development equation, some of our biggest companies and corporates are playing a transformational part in the fight against malaria. From GSK, who have so far invested more than $350 million in developing a malaria vaccine since the early 1980s (and expects to invest around another $260 million), to Jack Wills whose co-founder and Malaria No More UK Patron, Peter Williams, has committed his thoroughly British clothing company to be an active partner in raising a target of £1 million to fight the disease. Or take some of the world's leading British scientists based both home and abroad, whether they are experimenting with GM mosquitoes or modelling malaria transmission to help identify patterns and hotspots. Truly something to be proud of, UK R&D is leading the way.

So should we be proud of what UK aid has done? Without a doubt. But as the saying goes, pride comes before a fall. And whilst we have huge amounts to be proud of when we look at what progress has been possible, we would be wise to see the potential fragility. The achievements of recent years in malaria could be rapidly reversed without continued public, political and financial support. And sadly history has repeatedly shown us the costly consequences of prematurely ending anti-malaria programmes - massive malaria resurgence has frequently occurred when funding of local malaria projects is ended in Africa. But if we are able to tap into another of the Great British values - dogged determination - we need to stick in the game, stay with the fight and finish business. In this case ending malaria within a generation. Defeating the one disease that has killed more children than any other in history. Now that would be something to be proud of.