The Global Fund has shown what aid can achieve – let’s keep it that way
Sustained funding is vital to an initiative that has saved 9 million lives and helped to put TB, malaria and HIV on the back foot
There is a widespread view that international summits are all window dressing with no real results. In my role as Nigeria’s finance minister, and during my time with the World Bank, I have attended plenty of these gatherings. I can understand the criticism, but I can also think of 9 million good reasons why we should not be too quick to write off such conferences as pointless.
At the G8 summit in Okinawa 13 years ago, the world’s largest economies agreed to a bold initiative designed to reduce the deaths and misery caused by HIV and Aids, tuberculosis and malaria. It was the first time the G8 had made a collective commitment to improve global health.
The results of this intervention – which became the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria – have been remarkable. Over the past decade, the resources provided through the fund have saved an estimated 9 million lives and turned the tide against these terrible diseases in Africa and across the developing world.
New HIV infections have been cut by more than 20%. Malaria deaths in Africa, where the disease remains a huge health problem, are down by a third. Tuberculosis deaths worldwide have fallen by more than 40%.
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. HIV treatment for more than 4.2 million people, TB treatment for 9.7 million people, and 310m bednets to prevent malaria have been funded.
Here in Nigeria, the Global Fund has supported the distribution of more than 45m bednets to halt the transmission of malaria and the delivery of more than 8.1m courses of artemisinin-based combination therapy to treat the disease.
Importantly, all this has been achieved in a way that has strengthened the health systems of individual countries in Africa and the developing world, while proving very cost-effective. The Global Fund has regularly and independently been ranked among the most transparent of international aid organisations.
It is a success in which the UK can take enormous pride. From the very beginning, Britain has been one of the fund’s strongest and most steadfast financial supporters. The Global Fund shows what well-targeted aid can deliver, achieving results that go beyond the altruism of helping the sick and weak, important as these human qualities are.
Reducing the burden of disease in the developing world also benefits countries elsewhere for more hard-headed reasons. 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.
It is for these reasons that richer countries help to fund improvements in the hard infrastructure of developing countries. Investment in improving health, however, can bring even greater rewards, as well as demonstrating compassion for our fellow human beings.
Despite great progress, there is no room for complacency. The battle against these diseases has reached a critical moment, which makes the Global Fund as important as ever.
Scientific advances combined with our growing knowledge of what works offer a golden opportunity to save millions more lives and improve health, thereby removing the greatest barrier to increased global prosperity and stability. If this opportunity is wasted, there is a real danger that the hard-won gains of the past decade will be reversed.
Diseases do not stand still. Already, drug-resistance and other challenges are threatening the progress made so far.
We know that governments will probably continue to provide the vast majority of these funds. But the Global Fund is also encouraging more businesses and foundations to contribute. Indeed, one of its greatest successes has been bringing together new partnerships between government, business and philanthropy to bolster the battle against global disease.
The Global Fund has proved one of the smartest and most effective investments in improving public health and development. Africa is healthier; countries like Nigeria are closer to the point where they will be able to fund most of their own health needs and become donors, helping others reach the same stage.
Thanks to the vision and commitment shown at Okinawa 13 years ago, TB, malaria and HIV are in retreat, and 9 millions lives have been saved. By ensuring the Global Fund has the resources to step up its work, we can lift the shadow from millions more people and move our world decisively to a healthier, more stable and prosperous future.