This is a guest blog by Hugh Reed from RESULTS Brighton. Hugh has been the co-leading the Brighton group leader since November 2019.
Grassroots advocates storm Parliament in day of support for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance!
OK, so “storm” is maybe a little strong… but we turned up in our masses! And so did our MPs!
On 12 February me and 16 other RESULTS advocates from around the country teamed up with advocates from the ONE Campaign, UNICEF, Save the Children and Global Citizen for a day of action, as advocates met their MPs to ask them to show support in Parliament for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
Gavi is the world’s largest and most successful vaccine initiative, which since its launch in 2000 has halved childhood mortality by immunising over 760 million children in low income countries and preventing approximately 13 million deaths, dramatically driving down the incidence of 17 deadly and debilitating infectious diseases including polio, measles, meningitis, cholera, and typhoid. The impact of Gavi’s vaccination programmes is immense, as the health gains permeate through communities, freeing families (and particularly care-giving mothers) from the burden of illness to be more able to develop their economic livelihoods. For every $1 invested through Gavi, it creates $21 of direct health benefits and $54 of broader societal benefits.
The advocacy day was organized ahead of Gavi’s 2020 replenishment which the UK is hosting this June. Advocates focused on ensuring MPs were aware and supportive of maintaining the UK’s central role in the initiative. The UK currently provides 25% (£1.1bn) of Gavi’s funding, and therefore is key to ensuring Gavi has the stability required to continue its world leading and lifesaving work. In the period 2021–2025, Gavi plans to reach a further 300 million children, and save an additional 7–8 million lives.
Training for MP meetings
We began the advocacy day with briefings and training on how to engage with MPs. The briefings included a powerful presentation from David Anderson from UK-Med - a medical emergency response charity - on the effect of disease outbreaks in low income countries with weak health infrastructure. David shared his experiences of delivering life-saving vaccinations in communities devasted by infectious diseases such as the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the measles outbreak in Samoa. As well as reminding us of the importance of vaccines for those in need, David painted a vivid picture of the complications faced during vaccine programme implementation and the multitude of logistical and cultural challenges along the way.
After the briefings, we looked at how to deliver a convincing message to MPs. Experienced staff from RESULTS, ONE and UNICEF gave useful tips including the sage advice of making our messages personal, simple and informative with a clear ask, and relevant to MPs interests. Unavoidably, the training session then boiled down to time-abhorred role play, which was nonetheless fun and very useful.
As a team of around 90 advocates, we all then walked a few streets from the briefing venue over to Westminster Gardens for a photo op and then on through the airport-style security into Portcullis House where we received more briefing speeches from Romilly Greenhill, director of the ONE Campaign staff and our hosts, Bim Afolami MP and Catherine West MP, before the meetings commenced.
Success in Parliament
My group are constituents of Brighton Pavilion, so we had the pleasure of meeting Caroline Lucas MP (pictured) who was very receptive and supportive of the UK maintaining its current funding level. Lucas previously worked for Oxfam and therefore had a strong understanding of Gavi’s life-saving work in protecting vulnerable people, as well as recognising the increasingly vital role of global health initiatives such as this as the effects of climate change progress.
My group co-leader, Sidonie East, and RESULTS Brighton advocate Ioasia Redvan met with their MP for Brighton Kemptown, Lloyd-Russell Moyle, who was also very supportive of immunisation efforts. Russell-Moyle was particularly engaging as he was eager to discuss in more detail some of the technical challenges of strengthening the UK’s role in global health initiatives. The advocacy day was a great success, with over 50 MPs showing up; either to demonstrate their support for global immunisation or because they wanted to find out more about the issue.
After meeting our MPs, our Brighton group left Portcullis House and crossed the road to enter Westminster Palace and watch debates in the House of Commons and House of Lords from the public viewing galleries. It was a fascinating way to finish a day of parliamentary advocacy, because we could see first-hand how the concerns and will of MPs becomes the final force shaping UK legislation, through artful dialogue and persuasive debate in the dusty chambers of parliament.
Reflections on doing advocacy
For me as a young advocate, the day gave me exposure to how in many ways our parliamentary democracy is very open and provides direct channels for the public to express concerns to (and potentially influence) MPs. However, at the same time the day highlighted to me the very human and fallible barriers that stand in our way, such as the humble attention span of MPs, and the scarce economy of attention that advocates must try to capture in order to advance issues via parliamentary representatives.
Taking part in parliamentary advocacy, to try and influence the funding of a keystone global health initiative such as Gavi, also taught me about the immense level of social cooperation that is required in order for us as a global community to overcome adversity. It highlighted how careful dialogue and cooperation, guided by strong data can help us move towards a future where as a global community we are stronger and more prosperous. However, first, people (MPs and the public) must be open to dialogue.
The UK’s funding commitment for the next Gavi replenishment has yet to be announced, so we wait tentatively to find out if the 25% contribution will be maintained. For now we remain optimistic based on the support shown by MPs, and hopeful that the government will stand as a global leader and role model, and make the most of this opportunity to invest in an efficient and effective initiative that protects the some of the world’s most vulnerable people.