Douglas Alexander: Ignore the fashionable criticism. Your Government's aid is effective

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The Independent Online

Every year British taxpayers are helping save the lives of millions of people in the developing world. They are doing so because their money is being carefully and rigorously targeted at improving health care in some of the most disadvantaged nations in the world. As a result of the efforts of donor governments, international institutions such as the World Bank and NGOs real progress is being made. Polio, once the scourge of the poor worldwide, is on the verge of eradication, more than 4.5 million people are being treated for TB and a further three million now have access to life-saving drugs.

The UK alone will by next year have handed out 20 million bednets to combat malaria - which we estimate will prevent 110,000 child deaths. None of this has happened by accident. This Labour Government has trebled aid since 1997 after the Conservative Government halved it.

To claim, as Philip Stevens did in this column yesterday, that millions of pounds are somehow being flung at wasteful and corrupt governments is plain wrong. The UK does indeed channel cash through governments into health care. We measure effectiveness by results and we are confident that we are getting bang for our buck.

It is simply not credible to bypass governments if the Millennium Development Goals are to be met. The only way to cut dependence on aid – an aim we all share – is to allow the governments of developing countries to build up their own health services.

To do otherwise would be like pouring water into a desert. The money would swiftly be soaked up in projects which would have no lasting benefits. By channelling the money through governments we allow them to develop their capacity to provide sustainable health care based on their own priorities. We are not, however, blinded by dogma and in states where there is no stable government we do find different ways of helping the sick.

It is regrettably fashionable to decry the extraordinary strides in tackling poverty over the past 20 years. The unpalatable truth is that aid is an easy target because poor people whose lives it has transformed cannot answer back.

The author is Secretary of State for International Development. A fuller version of this article can be read at Eagle Eye: