The measles outbreak in Swansea is a worrying reminder that we have not won the battle against many infectious diseases. Although we often have the weapons to fight these illnesses, too often they are not utilised. It has been reported that 40,000 children in Wales have not been vaccinated against measles, despite the fact that vaccination programmes with a highly effective vaccine are in place. The safety of the vaccine was put into question by unfounded scare-stories over a decade ago and now we are witnessing the dangerous consequences.
Vaccinations can be life savers. I campaigned to implement vaccination programmes for the HPV virus, which causes cervical cancer. Although this has been a success, still in England the total vaccination rate is around 87%. We must improve on that figure to ensure all women are protected from cervical cancer.
In some cases we may not have the tools we need to effectively fight a disease. For example tuberculosis, which many people assume is a disease of the past, is still a significant problem in the UK and the rest of the EU. London has one of the highest TB rates in Western Europe. Although we do have vaccines and treatments for the disease they are outdated and we desperately need to develop new ones. Drug-resistant TB is on the rise and I am currently campaigning in the European Parliament to support the work of the Global Fund in fighting this devastating disease.
Infectious diseases are a cross-border threat, and the EU has an important role to play in providing research funds to develop new vaccines, monitoring the threat of diseases through the European Centre for Disease Control, and procuring treatments for emerging health threats. We must ensure that outbreaks such as those in Wales become a thing of the past. In June I will be hosting a meeting on childhood immunisation in the European Parliament to look at how we can improve our system and finally put a stop some of these terrible diseases.