A Critical Moment in African Health

By Mark Dybul

“Drop by drop, the pot hits the brim,” goes an African saying. The Abuja+12 Special Summit comes at a momentous time in our history. The call to take stock of Africa’s investments in health cannot be timelier. In today’s fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, every input will count immensely.

We are at a pivotal moment in the fight against these three diseases. Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa, has been disproportionately affected by these diseases. Millions have died. With the loss of life and health, much else has been lost. The social fabric of many African societies has been torn, family incomes and country economies upset.

But the tide is turning. Today, data across the world tells us that the three diseases we fight against are in retreat. Fewer people are dying, fewer and fewer infections are occurring. In the art of war, when the enemy loses step, it is time to press forward. Forward fast and firmly.

At the Global Fund, we believe this is a transformative moment in the history of the fight against the diseases. The world has the tools and the knowledge to defeat these maladies. We need to raise enough money to implement these groundbreaking innovations.

This year, we are asking our donors for US$15 billion to enable us support the world to intensify the fight against these diseases over the 2014-2016 cycle. It is our assessment that such an investment will have a transformative effect in the incidence and death rates of HIV and AIDS, TB and malaria.

Nonetheless, this amount in itself will not be enough to free the world from the burden of these three diseases. To do that, we estimate a total global need of US$87 billion between 2014-2016. Money set aside by African and other governments around the world in their annual budgets will go a long way in helping us meet this target.

In April 2001, African leaders met in Abuja, Nigeria, and resolved to boost government spending in health to least 15 percent of their countries’ annual budgets. In a bid to spur collective investments from varied stakeholders, the leaders also urged economically advanced countries to meet the target of committing 0.7 percent of their GNP as Official Development Assistance to developing countries as provided for by the UN.

The Abuja Declaration, as it came to be known, was an unequivocal appeal for improved funding in the fight against infectious diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. That Abuja call has never been more resonant. While only a few countries have met this target, there has been remarkable progress in investing more in health in many countries across Africa.

Every extra dollar that has gone into investing in health as a result of that visionary act of leadership 12 years ago is an extra step towards defeating Africa’s infectious diseases. As African countries move forward along this trajectory of health investment and as we at the Global Fund seek to invest more in this cause, we are moving closer towards the common objective of reducing HIV, tuberculosis and malaria to low level epidemics.

Investing today will save millions of lives and tens of billions of dollars that the world would have to pay in future costs. If we do not invest now, the long-term costs will be staggering. We have a choice: we can invest now or pay forever.

As African countries meet once more in Abuja, this is a chance to renew our commitment towards these health investment goals. It is an important moment to press forward with that ambitious call at the cusp of the millennium in the Nigerian capital.

Along this journey, the Global Fund will continue to be a partner to Africa, a reliable friend as the continent seeks to achieve the milestone of controlling the three diseases and removing them as threats to public health.

As we work hard to galvanize support to fill the pot, we appreciate every contribution that African countries make towards investing in health in their own countries. It is all these types and sizes of support and efforts that will help us win the fight. Together, we can bequeath our children a world free from these diseases.

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