We Can Defeat AIDS, TB and Malaria if We All Come Together
Defeating HIV, tuberculosis and malaria is no longer something unthinkable. This is the first generation to have the historic opportunity to end two plagues of millennia – malaria and tuberculosis – and the modern day Black Death – HIV. Scientific innovation and years of experience in the field have put the global health community within reach of ending these epidemics as threats to public health. The question is no longer whether we can do it, but whether we will actually do it.
The Global Fund is a 21st century partnership made up of external funders, government and non-government implementers, the private sector, faith- and community-based organizations and communities of people affected by the diseases. Our model allows us to work closely with countries, serve our partners better and take a holistic approach to health. This means removing inequalities and barriers to health to make scientific advances available to everyone, particularly the most vulnerable. Reaching the most vulnerable, keeping them in health programs once they start, and making sure that they get appropriate services, is essential to defeating the diseases. The people most vulnerable to disease often don’t have access to health programs. Women and girls, men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who inject drugs, transgender people, prisoners and migrants, among others, should be at the center of our programs. These groups can be up to 50-times more likely to have HIV than the general population. Creating an inclusive family promotes the human family advances the human spirit while ensuring that we defeat.
Moreover, investments in health don’t just benefit individual patients, 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 – with higher individual household income to purchase goods and services from the global marketplace. Investments in health yield returns in a more economically, and therefore, politically stable world. Since the Global Fund was established, it has worked with countries and partners to support health system strengthening as a way to maximize its core investments and to contribute to sustainable health programs. Training community nurses or supporting health centers in low-income countries is also investing in the future.
In this sense, the Global Fund is very encouraged by Africa’s leadership. Many countries in Africa, which has the largest concentration of people living with HIV in the world and the highest burden of malaria deaths, are showing extraordinary leadership and vision by increasing spending on health from their own budgets. More and more, they see it as a smart investment.
Our partners from the private sector are also stepping up and sharing the responsibility we all have in defeating these diseases, with innovative ways of financing and providing expertise to our partners. A healthier workforce means healthier returns.
Thanks to the efforts of all our partners, the fight against AIDS, TB and malaria has made enormous progress in recent years, and millions of lives have been saved. Through Global Fund-supported programs, more than 6 million people are receiving lifesaving antiretroviral therapy. Diagnosis and treatment for TB has reached more than 11 million people, and more than 300 million insecticide-treated nets have been distributed to families to protect them from malaria. Because there is no single bullet, we need to be smarter with our investments and deploy all the tools we have, from residential spraying to harm reduction to circumcision. Antiretrovirals, for example, not only save lives, but dramatically reduce the chances of infecting others with HIV, so there is an enormous prevention value in this. Everything is connected.
As the world enters a decisive phase in the fight against these diseases, the major challenge we face is that we could lose all our hard-fought gains unless we don’t make sure the trajectory of infections decrease. We are starting to see a resurgence in disease levels in places where efforts at control are not sustained.
Windows of opportunity don’t stay open forever. If we do not act now, we may squander this historical moment. 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.
No single institution or organization or collection of organizations is going to do the job. We will only defeat these diseases if we all come together through partnership and create an inclusive human family, one in which we treat everyone with dignity and respect.
We can defeat HIV, TB and malaria. Now we just have to do it.