Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460-479)|
9 JUNE 2004
Q460 Dr Iddon: We did refer to your concordat
with DFID in the previous session. Could you tell us what the
benefits and problems are of developing that concordat and how
it may direct itself in the future?
Mr Winterton: Yes. We have had
a long and really quite productive association with DFID and its
predecessors. The Ministry of Overseas Development back in the
1960s was contributing probably a comparable kind of sum to the
MRC's budget as DFID is today, so there has always been a relationship
where clearly DFID and its predecessors wanted to know what they
were getting for their money, for making their contribution. We
were anxious to be seen to be responding to a key stakeholder
in this field, so, if you like, the concordat has enshrined that
in a formal statement of what we are trying to achieve, and how
DFID will influence MRC decision-making, which is a key part of
it, and how we will monitor progress. It is an informal encouragement
to closer working, to regular meetings between officials and a
regular annual review of progress. It has an importance in terms
of, as I say, enshrining good working relationships within an
Q461 Dr Iddon: Does it add value to the
work you are doing, or is it just a monitoring exercise?
Mr Winterton: In itself it adds
value, in the sense that it sets out procedures whereby DFID can
play a formal part in helping to shape the MRC's programme. In
that sense it adds value, but it is not in itself a value-added
Q462 Dr Iddon: Does it cause problems
Mr Winterton: No, I do not think
in itself it causes any problems at all.
Q463 Chairman: Professor Maudlin and
Professor Haines, who do you think should fund the tropical animal
health work in the UK institutions?
Professor Maudlin: As I said before,
it is at present funded largely by DFID and the Wellcome Trust.
Q464 Chairman: But not enough.
Professor Maudlin: The Animal
Health Programme of DFID is one of the National Resources programmes
of DFID and it gets about £1.5 million a year. We had a meeting
recently at the Wellcome Trust where they said, "That is
about the size of one of our project grants." They perceived
it as being miniscule.
Q465 Chairman: It is.
Professor Maudlin: Yes.
Q466 Chairman: Absolutely miniscule.
Professor Maudlin: Yes. Because,
you see, the problems with animal healthnotwithstanding
my colleagues' interest in AIDSare of a similar magnitude.
Pig rearing in Africa is now a major money earner but African
swine fever is a major problem. The virus which causes it is as
complicated as the AIDS virus, so throwing a £100,000 grant
at this problem is speculative, to say the least.
Q467 Chairman: If you are unhappy, how
much should they have? I should say I just reviewed a grant for
somebody on public understanding of science and they got £0.25
million for it. £0.25 millionso that is not far off
the £1.5 millionand you can balance up what is more
important to the world.
Professor Maudlin: Yes, and we
are supposed to handle all the tropical animal health problems
with that £1.5 million, including dissemination, including
. . . .
Q468 Chairman: Come on! Here is your
chance. What do you think you need to handle the problems?
Professor Maudlin: In fact DFID
have acknowledged the fact that this is an under-funded area.
As they say in their new research framework, they intend to set
up a public/private partnership to help with this which will have
much more substantial funding.
Q469 Chairman: You will forgive us if
we are a bit suspicious that that only came out after our inquiry
started. You cannot possibly say anything.
Professor Maudlin: I am not aware
Q470 Chairman: You know why we are suspicious
of this. What do you think we need, to do the project work that
is so essential?
Professor Maudlin: Something of
the order of £10 million a year.
Q471 Chairman: Andy Haines?
Professor Haines: This is really
not my field of expertise, but certainly it does sound as though
it is very much under-funded.
Q472 Dr Iddon: Where do you think would
be appropriate for that money to come from? From the Research
Councils? From the EU?
Professor Maudlin: The EU is a
bit of a non-starter, and I speak personally here.
Q473 Dr Iddon: You mean you have the
scars to prove it.
Professor Maudlin: Yes. Battle
scarred. I would not again subject myself to applying for money
Q474 Chairman: We will protect you.
Professor Maudlin: One would say
stitch-up is their way of working.
Q475 Dr Iddon: You would look to Research
Professor Maudlin: Yes, DFID,
where there is a level playing field; or the Wellcome Trust, where
there is a very level playing field.
Q476 Chairman: So what has this new research
strategy come down to? Does it really, really address the problems?
Professor Maudlin: I think DFID
say in their preamble that they are going to focus on four big
research themes, which is right: agricultural productivity in
Africawhich is what I am really concerned with mainly;
killer diseases; climate change . . . These are the issues of
the day, are they not, and it is quite right that they should
focus their efforts on those.
Q477 Mr McWalter: I do not know how much
you heard of our previous evidence session but there is an absolute
gap in terms of things like actually providing resources for water
and sanitation and yet that is an absolutely fundamental primary
health concern, is it not? You are all asking for extra money
but there is a whole area of activity that is vital for health
that nothing much has been done about at all. Do you not think
that you, wearing your health hats, should be concerned to try
and get the engineers to be doing the stuff that needs to be done
to improve the health of people in developing countries as well?
Professor Haines: Certainly water
and sanitation have been rather neglected and certain colleagues
at the London School who do specialise in this area keep on telling
me that not enough money is going into research and development
in this area, and also into research on relatively simple interventions
like promoting hygiene within low income households, which can
have a very major impact on important diseases like diarrhoeal
diseases and so on. These have been relatively neglected and I
suspect that you are right: probably the return on research and
investment in that area would be high.
Professor Maudlin: I think there
is an enlightened self-interest argument for a lot of our work
as well. In terms of animal health, as you know, these viruses
spring up from nowhere and bite you and mostly they come from
animal reservoirs. We have an interest of our own therefore in
monitoring these things. In order to do that we need scientists
who understand them. They do not produce them overnight. It takes
Q478 Chairman: Do you know about the
water hyacinth problem in Malawi?
Professor Maudlin: I know about
the water hyacinth problem in Lake Victoria very well.
Q479 Chairman: Tell me what the mistake
was there. What went wrong in that whole process?
Professor Maudlin: The mistake
in the first place was allowing the water hyacinth to get into
Lake Victoria but there is nothing we can do about that. They
did introduce what they thought were some hi-tech solutions to
the problem which made it worse. One of the interesting side effects
of that was