Advocates warn of global health doomsday if Global Fund doesn’t get money

DfID Secretary Justine Greening at UNDP last year.
DfID Secretary Justine Greening at UNDP last year.
UNDP

(New York) – A pledge by the UK to provide the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria £1 billion ($1.6 billion USD) over three years inches the global health funder closer to its goal of $15 billion for its next funding replenishment. The announcement buoys hopes that the international donor community will continue to keep the Global Fund afloat.

“It is in all our interests to help people to live longer, healthier, more productive lives so we all need to play our part in working towards a world free of HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB,” said UK Department for International Development secretary Justine Greening at a UN meeting on the Millennium Development Goals.

A £1 billion commitment to the Global Fund equates to one life saved every three minutes, said Greening. Providing 10% of the needed Global Fund budget over three years will only happen if other donors step up to reach $15 billion. There are concerns that progress gained by the Global Fund’s work over the past few years could be lost if the funding does not come through.

South African actress Charlize Theron is getting in the act to support the Global Fund by calling attention to the problem of AIDS in her home country. She pressed for continued support in order to avoid losing valuable progress against HIV/AIDS.

“We are in a very, very dangerous period right now, because of our successes,” she said to CNN. “South Africa has had a 63 % drop in new infections when it comes to children under the age of 14. It’s a huge success to celebrate and we dropped tremendously when it comes to mother-to-child transmission.”

The private sector is taking a strong voice on the issue as well. Though they will likely not be able to commit funds on the same level as governments, there are signs that the Global Fund is finding more ways to engage with the likes of pharmaceutical companies beyond reducing prices for medicines and other goods.

“It is absolutely critical to ensure that the Global Fund is fully funded in order to prevent drug resistance from undermining the gains we’ve made against TB, and to keep us on track to get all three of these diseases under control,” wrote pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly CEO John Lechleiter in Forbes. “Taking our eye off the ball now would imperil future generations and result in significantly higher health care costs for governments around the world.”

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Gates Foundation

A mid-year update released by the Global Fund showed an increase in the number of people reached across all areas. The Global Fund brought HIV treatment to more than 5.3 million people, TB treatment for 11 million and funding for the distribution of 340 million insecticide treated bednets. The data comes from a mid-year report showing that 1.1 million more people living with HIV were on ARV therapy as compared to last year.

“These results show that we can have a transformative effect on these diseases, by working together,” said Mark Dybul, Executive Director of the Global Fund. “More people affected by HIV today can go to work, send their children to school and lead healthy lives thanks to the hard work of all our partners.”

The increase is in large part due to efforts in Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Those four countries alone accounted for 65% of the increase in ARV coverage. Meanwhile, 30 million insecticide treated bednets were distributed. TB work grew too. More people were tested for TB and treated for multi-drug resistant TB than the first half of last year, largely thanks to improvements in India.

“The Global Fund’s contribution to this progress cannot be overestimated. It has provided the overwhelming majority of international funding for tackling TB, more than half of international funding for malaria, and is the second largest supporter of the global Aids effort,” writes Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

“Poor health is the greatest barrier to economic and social development. Helping to improve the health of citizens in less developed areas of Asia and Africa creates prosperity, in turn opening up new opportunities for business and trade,” says Ngozi.

Aside from getting the money, the Global Fund has the opportunity to make changes that will increase impact, says Amanda Glassman, director of global health policy at the Center for Global Development. She participated in the launch of a new report More Health for the Money which recommends improvements for the Global Fund. The recommendations come from a working group of various global health professionals and researchers. Savings opportunities exist in areas like bednet prices and targeting high-risk groups like men who have sex with men.

“The Global Fund could save many more lives if they are willing to change how they do business to focus more on results and less on receipts,” she argues. “Getting more value for the money is not merely a checklist, a principle or another task on the to-do list-it is the core business of any health funder.”

Attention will increase on the Global Fund through the end of the year in order to gain more commitments and ensure funding through 2016.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.