Global Fund conference seeks to end killer diseases for good

Early last decade, Somalia was facing a severe health crisis. A long civil war, drought and famine had shattered the country’s fragile health care system. Its population was vulnerable to disease, and was facing one of the highest rates of tuberculosis (TB) in the world.

In 2004, World Vision stepped in. With the support of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria (Global Fund), it brokered partnerships with local health providers and governments in autonomous territories. Development workers on the ground opened new medical centres to make treatment more accessible.

“The country has difficult terrain, and communication is very difficult,” says Dr. Vianney Rusagara, Global Fund TB Program Director at World Vision. “Few people were able to travel very long distances to access TB treatment centres. So it was necessary for us to expand, to reach more vulnerable people.”

Now up and running for more than a decade, this Global Fund/World Vision partnership has provided life-saving TB treatment to nearly 130,000 people in Somalia. The program has achieved an 88 percent success rate.

Somalia is just one of many developing countries where the Global Fund is supporting the work of relief and humanitarian groups. The international financing institution was launched in 2002 in an effort to stop the spread of disease in poorer nations. Philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, economist Jeffrey Sachs and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan were among the organization’s first supporters.

Since then, the Global Fund has grown to become the world’s largest financier of AIDS, TB and malaria programs. It raises and invests more than $5 billion a year, distributed to local partners in communities that are most in need of eradicating those deadly diseases. Statistics from the Global Fund show 20 million lives have been saved since the organization was founded. Nine million people have received antiretroviral therapy for AIDS, and 15 million people have received treatment for tuberculosis.

“The Global Fund is one of the most effective worldwide efforts to tackle some of the major killers of our time,” says Sara Schulz, a Senior Policy Advisor with World Vision Canada. “The work they do helps to strengthen the health systems in countries so there is a better ability to bring basic health services even to the most remote and marginalized communities.”

At an international conference in Montreal this weekend, the Global Fund executives are calling on participants from around the world to join forces to end the epidemics of HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria by 2030. The Global Fund is seeking $17 billion in pledges to support their work over the next three years. They hope to save another eight million lives and stop another 300 million infections by 2019.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Irish rocker Bono are among those attending the Global Fund Replenishment Conference. They are being joined by 400 delegates representing a broad spectrum of stakeholders in the public and private sector. Michael Messenger, President and CEO of World Vision Canada, is among the participants. The Global Fund provides support for a number of World Vision health initiatives, including an HIV/AIDS health program in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a similar program in Haiti and measures to counter malaria in Mozambique.

In advance of the world meeting, the Canadian government pledged $785 million, for 2017 to 2019, towards the Global Fund — a 20 percent increase from the previous years’ donation.

The rise in funding “shows Canada is a leader and paving the way,” Schulz says. “While the pledge is a strong signal, we are looking for Canada to ensure enough of the money raised goes to the countries that have the highest burden of mortality, the world’s most fragile places.”

About 25 percent of Canada’s aid budget is currently focused on fragile places. World Vision is calling on the federal government to increase that commitment to 35 percent. More than half of children who die from preventable causes like HIV, TB and malaria live in fragile places, or regions afflicted by violent conflict. World Vision calculates that countries such as Afghanistan, South Sudan and Somalia are home to 60 percent of maternal deaths and more than half of newborn deaths.

Despite those challenges, health workers in developing countries are seeing measurable progress. More and more communities are gaining ground in the fight against diseases that once seemed unbeatable. What seemed impossible just a generation ago — winning the battle against AIDS, TB and malaria for good — may now be within the world’s grasp.

This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of World Vision.

This article was originally published in the National Post

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