As thousands of health outreach workers across Rwanda care for patients taking their daily AIDS and tuberculosis medications, along the way they often become sources of comfort and support. The photo above speaks a thousand words.
AIDS patients need to take their medications for life. For those with TB, it’s a six to nine month course of treatment. Without regular follow up, some simply don’t take their medicines on a consistent basis and that can be fatal, not just for them — but for their families, friends, neighbors and communities.
Thanks to funding provided by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, more than seven and a half million lives have been saved, and untold millions have been protected from the scourge of these diseases. In fact, the number of people dying from AIDS worldwide has declined for the third year in a row according to the latest report from UNAIDS, released last week in the run up to World AIDS Day this coming Thursday.
The Global Fund was created nearly a decade ago in response to the AIDS crisis and the burgeoning malaria and TB epidemics. The concept was as simple as it was innovative: to be a financing tool to coordinate contributions from both wealthy countries and private donors and in turn grant money to countries in dire need, and a public-private partnership.
HIV + Sex Worker And Health Secretary Working Side By Side
“It’s like a venture capital firm with a big heart, run by activists,” the fund’s Communications Director Jon Liden told me in a telephone interview from its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. After all, where else do you find an organization where “an HIV positive former sex worker from India had equal voting rights with the health secretary from the United States”? Liden quipped. “It’s not an institution solely run by a bunch of governments.” And, as he pointed out, 3 of the 20 voting members on the fund’s board come from civil society.
“The Global Fund was created as a way of partly providing resources to pay for AIDS medicines, but also to provide resources in a very rapid way to fight infectious diseases — the other two main ones that affect poor people being malaria and tuberculosis.”
Despite a bevy of naysayers, the Global Fund became a huge success story, and has disbursed over $15 billion since its inception in 2002; its war chest has increased from $2 billion in 2002 to $33 billion today.
“We have funding in 150 countries,” Liden told me. “The Global Fund currently provides about two thirds of all international financing in the world to fight malaria, more than 80% of international financing to fight TB and around a quarter of the global financing for AIDS,” he explained. “Without the Global Fund constantly pushing donor countries to fight this battle against these three diseases in the past decade, you wouldn’t have seen near as many resources being allocated as you do now.”
Care2 Partners With The Global Fund
As Care2′s Jessica Pieklo wrote yesterday, she’s in Ghana this week on a fact-finding trip as Care2 and The Global Fund embark on a partnership to raise awareness. Jessica is blogging all this week about the programs she’s visiting and she will be posting videos as well — so be sure to check back to see what she’s learned. Starting today as well we’ll be hearing from the Global Fund in posts on Care2′s new Global Development channel, so be sure to watch out for those posts on a regular basis.
But here’s the catch: as Jessica said, her trip comes at a time when the United States has chosen to spend more — billions more — on drone aircraft strikes than life-saving mosquito netting that, at a fraction of the cost, can literally help put a stop to the spread of malaria and turn around a massive public health crisis.
With No Money For New Grants, Who Lives And Who Dies?
The Global Fund just announced that as a result of the debt crises in the U.S. and Europe, it has been forced to stop funding new grants until 2014. It says that for now, it can only afford to keep up existing programs. That paints a pretty stark picture and begs an even starker question: who lives and who dies?
“It is deeply worrisome that inadvertently the millions of people fighting with deadly disease are in danger of paying the price for the global financial crisis,” Dr. Michel Kazatchkine, Executive Director of the Global Fund, said in a statement. According to an AP report, Kazatchkine said the fund’s financing picture for the next two years could affect nine to ten million new patients in developing countries who are in need of HIV treatment.
The Global Fund’s Achievements
Compare and contrast those numbers to these achievements: the Global Fund has detected and treated 8.2 million new cases of infectious TB, distributed 190 million insecticide-treated bed nets to protect families from malaria, and enables 3.2 million people to receive anti-retroviral treatment to prevent the spread of HIV — the virus that causes AIDS.
Indeed one of the greatest advances in curtailing AIDS transmission has been the ability — led certainly in no small part by the Global Fund – to provide anti-retrovirals to millions of mothers in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere to prevent mother-to-child transmission. New research shows that treating HIV infected people with anti-retroviral drugs can reduce the risk they will pass on the virus by a mind boggling 96%.
Back to Square One?
Because funding from countries such as the U.S. is being cut, the potential to save hundreds of thousands of children from malaria — who live, as Jeffrey Sachs so aptly put it in an article the other day, “in poor tropical environments where a mosquito bite kills, and where their impoverishment makes it impossible for them to afford a $5 bed net, $1 diagnostic test, $1 dose of anti-malaria medicine, or access to a clinic. Countless others will die because they cannot get AIDS or TB treatments to stay alive.”
“I remember how hopeless everybody felt in in 1998 and 1999. Malaria was just galloping ahead of us, the AIDS crisis was just unstoppable, and TB was marching forward and nobody could do very much about it,” Liden reflected in our interview. “Now we’re starting to see a decline in deaths from TB worldwide which is just sensational, and we’re also seeing a dramatic drop on malaria and a dramatic drop in mortality from AIDS. Nobody would dream of that ten years ago.”
A Major Force For Change
And although as Liden agreed, the Global Fund can’t take full credit, it certainly has been a major force for change.
“We have fantastic results that are in our hands,” Liden claimed. But, as he added,”they are ours to lose. “We can eliminate malaria in most countries that have large numbers of malaria deaths today. We can make sure that practically no child is born with HIV in three to four years. We can drive down these diseases to where they become a manageable problem within ten to fifteen years, twenty five years perhaps with AIDS.”
The United States pays for more than 50% of global AIDS investments, and contributes about 30% of the Global Fund. It’s crucial for funding to continue. “We’ve gone from the original framework of spending $2 billion back in 2002 up to what we have managed to secure — $33 billion all together for this fight.” A fight that is in serious jeopardy today.
Swords into plowshares, and drones into mosquito netting: that’s what real global development should look like.
For more on the Global Fund, take a look at this video:
Photo credit © The Global Fund / John Rae