On 21st January 2012 International Development Minister Stephen O’Brien announced plans for Britain to increase its support for Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) from £50 million to £245 million between 2011 and 2015. This commitment formed part of a global push to help eliminate infectious tropical diseases, and protect more than 140 million of the world’s poorest men, women and children from the agonising pain caused by these avoidable infections.
Neglected tropical diseases currently affect one billion people per year, killing more than half a million people every year and leaving millions more trapped in a life of poverty. In many developing countries NTDs such as guinea worm and bilharzia are common causes of children’s absence from school, causing generations of children grow up with little education and few prospects for the future. The UK Government’s efforts are therefore a crucial step in transforming lives by improving child health and thus enabling more children to go to school and learn the skills needed to help themselves out of poverty.
However, whilst such steps to tackle illness and reduce disability are essential, they must go hand in hand with measures to improve the opportunities, in particular the access to education, for those children who do suffer from disabilities – even if we eradicate NTDs, which will help to prevent some disabilities, these children will not disappear. There are around 67 million children of primary age currently out of school around the world and disabled children account for a third of that number; in Africa it is estimated around 90 per cent of disabled children are excluded from school.
The UK’s increased support to fight NTDs is a vital step towards improving child health and access to education, and we greatly welcome it. However, without measures to ensure inclusive education provision for disabled children of primary school age, children suffering from NTDs and other forms of disability will continue to be denied their right to basic education. The UK Government must therefore take immediate steps to ensure that efforts to tackle poverty and exclusion through support to the fight against NTDs are mirrored by an equally strong commitment to ensure that those who are disabled can access education. Whilst the Department for International Development (DFID) had strong policies on inclusive education for children with disabilities, research undertaken by RESULTS in 2009 suggest these were not implemented consistently in all the countries that DFID works in. RESULTS UK will therefore be making this a major theme of our work during 2012, starting with an action to generate parliamentary pressure to make sure that UK aid to education delivers for children with disabilities (find out more here).