The Global Fund has supported programs that have saved 20 million lives. It’s an incredible milestone. It puts a number on the breathtaking progress that has been made against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, and goes hand-in-hand with building resilient and sustainable systems for health. Investments by global health partners and bigger commitments by national governments are combining to create a movement of historic proportions, transforming countless lives and livelihoods.
What do these numbers really mean? A life saved is the mother who can raise her daughter and teach her to stay safe from HIV, or the father who can provide for his family without fear of TB. It is the girl who thrives beyond her fifth birthday because she was protected from malaria and becomes a doctor, or perhaps the next leader of her country. These lives saved lead to thriving, prosperous countries.
We know poor health is both a cause and a consequence of poverty. As health has improved, global poverty has been halved in the last two decades, registering the fastest decline in human history. As economies grow, countries are better equipped to respond to diseases. Life expectancy is growing significantly in many countries. It is a virtuous circle that produces longer lives and better livelihoods.
Yet this remarkable progress has not reached everyone in equal measure. Women and girls remain disproportionately affected by diseases. So too do marginalized populations, especially those that remain stigmatized by society. Sex workers, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, transgender people, migratory people and prisoners, among others, continue to bear the brunt of many infectious diseases.
The Global Fund partnership is stepping up investments to provide prevention, treatment and care for these groups of people in particular. Sixty percent of Global Fund spending benefits women and girls, and the 2017-2022 strategy strengthens its commitment to scale up programs that remove human rights barriers to accessing services.
These are the hallmarks of our shift from addressing a crisis to attempting what has seemed impossible since recorded medical history – ending AIDS, TB and malaria as epidemics. Because people came together – from policymakers to village volunteers, the poorest orphan to the wealthiest philanthropist – we are now on the right side of the tipping point.
But tipping points can go either way. The data are clear – if we do not stick with it until the end, the epidemics will come roaring back. And when they do, as we are seeing already, they will be in drug- and multidrug-resistant forms, posing threats to global health security and increasing the specter of antimicrobial resistance.
The next three to five years will determine if we are the generation to end these epidemics, or if we will pass them on for generations to come. But scientific breakthroughs and better health policy alone will not win the day. We must look within ourselves and become better people – healing our souls as well as our bodies. We must embrace those who are different from us – who are “other” – and create the inclusive human family we are meant to be.
At a time of crisis, when HIV was spreading unabated, adding to the misery caused by the age-old of scourges of tuberculosis and malaria, humanity knew it could do better. The Global Fund was born. Instead of succumbing to fear of disease and death, the world rallied and expanded the boundaries of our knowledge and our compassion. Together, through the programs we support, 20 million lives have been saved and many millions more have been improved. Later this month when leaders meet in Montreal to replenish the Global Fund for the next three years, they have an opportunity to give future generations a world free from the epidemics of AIDS, TB and malaria. The decisions is ours. We can end it. For good.
Mark Dybul is executive director of The Global Fund.