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Alistair Burt MP is show slides by Professor Adam Cunningham, Co-Director of the BactiVac network.

Birmingham research into the development of vaccines against bacterial infections has been highlighted during a visit to campus by the International Development Minister.   

UK aid is driving huge breakthroughs in medicine, nutrition and agriculture to help the world’s poorest people, International Development Minister Alistair Burt said in a speech to academics and students on his visit to the University of Birmingham.

Vaccines save millions of lives every year, but despite this, bacteria still causes millions of deaths a year through disease – which affect developing countries disproportionately.

During his visit to Birmingham (Thursday 22 February), Minister Burt saw first-hand how with UK aid the University of Birmingham has set up a network of experts to help low and middle income countries fight deadly diseases and prevent the spread of epidemics. Through the Global Challenges Research Fund, the BactiVac network was launched to develop vaccines against bacterial infections in humans and animals.

Speaking ahead of the visit Minister Burt said:

"Science and technology are saving and transforming lives around the world and we can be proud that the UK as a research super-power is driving breakthroughs to help the world’s poorest.

"We are committed to investing 3% of our total budget to research and it is only through the work of academics and scientists like those at the University of Birmingham that we will continue not only to prevent the spread of diseases from reaching our shores, but also reduce avoidable maternal deaths and save lives."

Professor Tim Softley, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Transfer, University of Birmingham, hosted a round table discussion during Minister Burt's visit. He said:

"The University was delighted to host the visit of the Minister and to share details of how our researchers are supporting the objectives of the UK aid programme with breakthroughs that will transform and save lives in the lower-middle income countries of the world.

"We share Minister Burt's objective to make aid work better and such research will continue to grow in scale at the University as we pull together multidisciplinary teams to address the most pressing global challenges.

"In so doing we aim to meet our strategic objective of using our strengths in research and education to increase the well-being and prosperity of our city, our region, the nation and the world."

DFID supports a number of health research projects at the University of Birmingham under the Joint Global Health Trials scheme, in collaboration with the UK Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, and the Department of Health and Social Care.

These include trials that will provide new knowledge about how to reduce infection following emergency gastrointestinal surgery, and whether routine antibiotics provision can prevent infection after miscarriage.

Minister Burt spoke about the impact UK aid is having on global health challenges around the world, for example in the last 15 years malaria rates have dropped by 60%, deaths in childbirth are down 37%, HIV cases have dropped by 46% and nearly a billion less people are living in extreme poverty. In terms of polio, 30 years ago there were 350,000 cases in over 100 countries. Today, this has been reduced to double digits. 

During his speech he also praised the work of the UK’s Emergency Medical Team, which included two Birmingham based medics, deployed after Christmas to a refugee camp in Bangladesh to fight a deadly diphtheria outbreak.