Seizing the opportunity to defeat AIDS, TB and malaria
As a global community, we have an historic opportunity to defeat HIV, tuberculosis and malaria so that our legacy to successive generations is a world free of the burden of these three plagues.
Only a few years ago, this was unthinkable. Scientific advances, epidemiological intelligence and experience from more than a decade of implementation mean that ending these major killers as public health threats is now within our reach.
Innovations in science and technology have given us the tools to more effectively prevent, diagnose and treat the diseases. New advances in epidemiological intelligence provide a richer, more strategic understanding of the epidemics, which can direct more strategic and targeted investments. And the expansion of national programmes, over the past decade, provides a foundation for using science and epidemiology most effectively. That includes lessons learned from successful – and unsuccessful – programmes to enable the use of best practices.
The Global Fund was created as a 21st century institution and as a highly accountable and transparent financing vehicle for shared responsibility among all partners so that people on the ground can be empowered to take responsibility for solving their problems. This approach is based on robust engagement of all sectors – not just governments, but also the private sector, civil society and, in particular, the people living with the diseases. Multilateral and bilateral technical partners support countries to achieve their goals by being strategic and pragmatic about the programmes that will achieve the highest impact based on the areas where infections are occurring and based on the people who are most vulnerable to infection. That requires strong health systems that engage beyond the clinic, going deep into the community.
We also know that a highly effective way to control and defeat infectious diseases like AIDS, TB and malaria is by focusing on the most vulnerable populations. Reaching the most vulnerable, keeping them in health programmes once they start, and making sure that they get appropriate services, will be absolutely key to defeating the diseases. The people most vulnerable to disease often don’t have access to health programmes, but we must work to reverse this trend, to make scientific advances available to everyone. This will have big implications in terms of human rights.
Promoting human rights and equity through the work of the Global Fund is critical, not just to achieve our health objectives, but also because it is the right thing to do. Integrating human rights into every aspect of the fight against the diseases greatly increases the impact of our investments.
Investing in health is great value for money. When you can prevent the spread of malaria and save the lives of millions of young mothers and children with mosquito nets that cost a few dollars, that is an outstanding investment. When you can keep a man or woman with AIDS alive on drugs that cost US$125 a year or less, compared with US$10,000 a year just one decade ago, that is an outstanding investment. When a person with TB can be treated for less than US$100 and can go back to supporting their family and raising their children, that is a great investment.
Moreover, investments in health don’t just benefit a single patient, or their immediate families. It is also the larger communities and regions and countries whose economies and social fabric thrive on a healthy population. A healthier population is a more productive population – and with higher individual household income to purchase goods and services from the global marketplace. And investors are unlikely to enter a marketplace with high absenteeism and loss of trained personnel to debilitating and deadly infectious diseases. Investments in health will yield returns in a more economically, and therefore politically, stable world.
The fight against AIDS, TB and malaria is going in the right direction. In recent years, there have been declines in infection rates, more people provided with support and medication, and greater success rates for treatment. But we know that much remains to be done, and already we are starting to see a resurgence in disease levels in places where efforts at control are not sustained.
Timing is critical. If we do not start to act this year, we may miss the opportunity. As we have learned with other infectious diseases, when you have a window of time to control the spread of a disease, you must take action or else face the risk that the disease finds new forms that are far more complex and expensive to defeat. When that happens, all the investment made so far is effectively lost. It is ‘invest now or pay forever.’
We should not minimise the challenge of what lies ahead. But we know from experience that by working together, with shared responsibility, with clear focus, and with compassion as global health citizens, these three diseases can be defeated.
Together, in partnership, we can do great things.