Thursday, April 24, 2014
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The Time is Now to Fight Disease

It is possible for a child born just ten years from now to live in a world where AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria are on the wane. But this can only happen with considerable investment. Now. Otherwise, today’s grim picture will only get worse. Each day, these diseases kill 16,000 people—devastating entire communities and plummeting countries deeper into poverty.

Upping the ante could turn the tables. Recent successes in Brazil against AIDS, in Mozambique against malaria, and in China against TB, show what can be achieved on a global scale with more resources. There are new ways of directing aid to where it is most needed.

A key instrument is the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. Created in 2002 as a partnership between governments and civil society, the Global Fund is unique in the way it aims to deliver assistance. Driven by real needs on the ground, projects are designed and implemented by recipients, and its procedures and operations are transparent.

Of late there has been much talk about intensifying efforts to eradicate poverty. Ahead of the G8 summit in Scotland in July, a coalition of non-governmental organizations has launched the “Global Call to Action Against Poverty,” and the UK host has made Africa a top priority. Building on this momentum, the campaigns for debt relief, trade reform, and increasing aid to poor countries have gained traction. Yet, while pledges to increase development assistance have soared, short-term funding is woefully inadequate.

Any strategy for raising living standards must include urgent measures that address AIDS, TB and malaria. Stemming the spread of this deadly trio of diseases is the linchpin in the global fight against poverty.

Unchecked, these diseases not only sap the strength of national economies, but jeopardize peace and security. Teachers and nurses are dying; police and security forces are being hard hit, and 14 million children have already been orphaned by AIDS. We now risk failing to meet the Millennium Development GOAL, set out by the United Nations, of reversing the spread of AIDS, TB and malaria by 2015. This failure will make remote any hope of reaching the other Millennium goals in the fight against poverty.

A comprehensive response to AIDS, TB and malaria is needed. Acting now means less spending in the long run. Investments in effective prevention, treatment and research in 2005 and 2006 will save millions of lives, lessen the socio-economic impact of the diseases in poorer countries, and remove the need for increased spending on these chronic crises in the future.

The Global Fund plays an important role in this funding environment, providing approximately 66% of all current external funds in the fight against TB, 45% in the fight against malaria, and 20% of all external support to combat HIV/AIDS. Since the Global Fund was founded three years ago, it has built an impressive track record: approving 310 grants totaling $3.1 billion in 127 countries and disbursing $920 million since 2002. Despite the scope of its mission, it has a minimal bureaucracy, which allows for a flexible response to changing needs.

The Global Fund is not perfect; as with all new organizations, it is experiencing growing pains. Yet, issues such as procurement policies, trade-offs between efficiency and ownership, and the balance between government and non-governmental organizations as implementing partners are being addressed through the Fund’s open and inclusive governance systems.

If the Fund is to live up to its potential it will need $2.3 billion to continue its work effectively in 2005. The first of two replenishment conferences for the Global Fund is taking place this week in Stockholm, with the aim of securing financial pledges to cover grant commitments in 2006-2007, as well as to fill the gap for this year.

Donors have long preached the importance of a funding vehicle such as the Global Fund—one that is needs-driven, relies on local input, and promotes donor coordination. They now have a chance to make good on their word. With many battles ahead in the fight against AIDS, TB and malaria, it would be a disgrace if this opportunity is squandered.

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