Bishop of Peterborough calls on government to restore 0.7% foreign aid budget

The Bishop of Peterborough has called for Britain to follow the example of the other G7 countries by not cutting its overseas aid target.

Sunday, 13th June 2021, 12:30 pm
The Bishop of Peterborough at a 'pop-up' skin clinic in search of new leprosy cases in Dhaka, Bangladesh
The Bishop of Peterborough at a 'pop-up' skin clinic in search of new leprosy cases in Dhaka, Bangladesh

As leaders of the world’s richest democracies meet in Cornwall tomorrow for the G7 Summit, the Rt Revd Donald Allister, who sits in the House of Lords, has appealed to the Government to reinstate its 0.7 per cent UK aid commitment.

Bishop Donald is Vice-President of Peterborough-based charity The Leprosy Mission. Shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in 2020 he travelled to Bangladesh with Peter Waddup, chief executive of the overseas development charity.

Together they visited slum areas of its capital Dhaka where overcrowding, poor sanitation and malnutrition have led to people’s immune systems being weakened. These are conditions in which Neglected Tropical Diseases, including leprosy, which has been entirely curable since 1982, thrive.

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Bishop Donald rallied the support of church leaders in Dhaka to help end leprosy by raising awareness of the disease and signposting people to treatment before they develop lifelong disabilities.

Having made the unforgettable trip, Bishop Donald said he was ‘heartbroken’ to learn that the promise of a £1 million grant from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) had been withdrawn. The four-year project working with slum residents in Dhaka was set to reach almost 10,000 people affected by leprosy and disability.

As well as finding and treating new ‘hidden’ cases of leprosy, the project was to deliver basic healthcare to slum residents.

Bishop Donald told of how he saw three people diagnosed and treated for leprosy in a pop-up skin camp in Dhaka in one afternoon. He said he found it devastating to consider the number of people that could have been cured if the four-year project was to go ahead as originally promised.

Bishop Donald said: “The first signs of leprosy are usually a numb discoloured skin patch so The Leprosy Mission arranges skin camps in Bangladesh. There is so much stigma surrounding leprosy that people are far more likely to attend a skin camp than go to a leprosy clinic. In January 2020, I visited a pop-up skin camp in the grounds of a church in a slum area of Dhaka.

“In an hour or so, three people were diagnosed with the early stages of leprosy and received the drugs that will cure them completely. One was a young man, barely more than a child. When he heard he had leprosy his fear was palpable.

“Time was spent gently explaining to him that it was completely curable. Happily, he won’t now develop lifelong disabilities. But still he was terrified. Tragically, the disease still holds so much power and is often viewed as a curse. So much so that people hide the early signs for fear of being cast out by their families, workplaces and communities. This perpetuates a vicious circle as all too often they then go on to develop avoidable disabilities.

“Outreach projects are desperately needed to find these hidden cases of leprosy. I am devastated to learn that UK aid funding has been cut from a Leprosy Mission project to find and cure new cases of leprosy in the Dhaka slums. People like the young man I met last year will have a very different life as a result. Tragically, they will be left to live with avoidable serious disabilities, discrimination and shame, in many cases leading to mental health issues, to family breakdown, and sometimes to suicide.

“This reduction of promised UK aid funding is heartbreaking. I am among those who sought and received a personal assurance in the House of Lords, from the Leader of the House, that our aid budget would not be cut. Of course, I am aware of the devastation and the huge costs of Covid, but the 0.2 per cent aid cut is tiny compared to that figure.

“Yet still it would make an enormous difference to people’s lives in one of the poorest countries in the world. I urge the Government to reconsider, and to restore our country to the honourable position of meeting the United Nations’ aid targets.”

Peter Waddup said a Leprosy Mission project that has already started in Nepal is facing closure unless other funding can be secured. This is due to the withdrawal of another promised UK aid grant of almost £1 million. The project aims to provide 2,500 Nepalis who are disabled and unemployed with the skills and training they need to find work. Unfortunately, the people currently in job training may not be able to complete their programmes as a result of the budget cut.

Mr Waddup said: “UK aid is desperately needed to strengthen health systems in resource-challenged countries and to enable people with disabilities to work and feed their families.

“The World Health Organization has published a roadmap to end Neglected Tropical Diseases like leprosy by 2030 in order to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.

“But if UK aid is cut and there is rising poverty as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, how are we ever to ‘leave no one behind’? As one of the world’s richest nations we have a moral obligation to throw a lifeline to the people who need it the very most in this world.

“I have been extremely privileged to have met people whose lives have changed dramatically thanks to UK aid. A little money goes a long way in the countries in which we work.

“Although I am devastated that life-changing programmes in Bangladesh and Nepal have had their funding cut, I am extremely thankful to the Government for honouring its commitment to two UK aid match projects we have in Nepal and Mozambique.

“Our incredibly generous and loyal supporters raised millions to make these projects happen. Hundreds of them have written to their MPs calling for their support to help restore the 0.7 per cent UK Aid target. They know and passionately believe in the difference this money makes.”