FILE PHOTO: A student displays his hands painted with messages as he poses during an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign to mark the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, in Chandigarh, India, May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ajay Verma/File Photo
HIV/Aids awareness event in Chandigarh, India © Reuters

Our guest curator this week is Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The best part of my job is going into the field to see health programmes, talking to the workers on the front line, listening to people affected by the diseases.

Last month I went to Côte d’Ivoire in west Africa and visited a pop-up HIV testing station at a long-distance truck stop, and shadowed a community health worker helping families in a remote village protect their children against malaria.

Such visits show me the impact of the programmes we fund and lets me see what’s working well and what needs to be done differently.

The Global Fund’s mission is simple to state: to end the epidemics of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria by 2030. This is not a pipe dream: we have already successfully controlled these diseases in many parts of the world.

But they are still killing millions every year — mainly the poor, the vulnerable, children. We’ve made remarkable progress against HIV, TB and malaria, almost halving deaths over the past decade, but too many people are still dying.

Increasing resistance to insecticides and drugs, persistent (and in some places, worsening) inequalities in access to healthcare, and wavering political commitment and stalled funding, have slowed progress.

Nearly 1,000 adolescent girls and young women are infected with HIV every day. A child still dies every two minutes from malaria. TB is now the world’s leading killer among infectious diseases — and in its drug-resistant form poses a terrifying threat to global health security.

We need more innovation in diagnostics, prevention, treatment and delivery models. We need better collaboration and more rigorous execution. But above all, we need more money.

Last week, I met France’s president Emmanuel Macron to announce our goal of raising at least $14bn to fund programmes and build stronger systems for health in our next three-year cycle. He sees the importance of accelerating progress against these epidemics.

We can step up the fight, or we can slip backwards. In the fight against these terrible diseases there is no middle ground. We need support from governments, civil society, the private sector and people affected by the diseases.

I know it’s not an easy time to raise money, but this is a truly extraordinary opportunity. By raising at least $14bn we could save 16m lives, and get back on track towards ending the epidemics.

The Global Fund was created to fight the three biggest infectious diseases affecting humanity. We have won many battles and made great advances, but to defeat Aids, TB and malaria, we must step up the fight.

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Three questions

Peter spoke to Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations

How important is global health to the overall sustainable development agenda?

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is our bold blueprint for humanity. Ensuring better health and wellbeing for all is a fundamental human right and will have a multiplier effect on the overall agenda. We cannot eliminate extreme poverty and hunger without addressing and investing in the social determinants of health.

What role can the Global Fund play in driving progress towards SDG3 and the broader sustainable development agenda?

The Global Fund has long understood that the key to reaching those at risk lies in a multi-sectoral response. It has broken new ground in its efforts to end fragmentation and duplication. Its investments in surveillance, diagnostics and in managing the supply of drugs and treatments to prevent and respond to Aids, TB and malaria are the backbone of sustainable health systems that leave no person behind

Why should countries support the Global Fund’s replenishment?

Investing in health has a powerful knock-on effect, enabling communities and countries to thrive and develop their economies. When people are healthier, societies are more productive, and can help us achieve greater global health security.

The Global Fund has been a critical financing institution, working in partnership with the UN and countries to save millions of lives towards the achievement of universal health coverage. All countries, philanthropic foundations and the private sector should contribute to the Fund’s replenishment.

Books I am reading

Behave: The Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst by Robert Sapolsky. When we think about prevention, understanding behaviour is crucial. I’ve read a lot of behavioural economics such as Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, but this views the topic through a biological lens.

The Language of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story by Christie Watson. A powerful book that underscores how care, compassion and kindness are as crucial to healthcare provision as biomedical tools.

Educated by Tara Westover. An extraordinary coming-of-age story, of self-reinvention and discovery.

Not Just for Christmas by Natalie Cox. A fun romantic comedy, written by my wife! What better for one’s health than dogs, love and laughter? In the US, the title is Mutts and Mistletoe.

Articles I am reading

The history of blood Jerome Groopman (The New Yorker)

The best investment I ever made Bill Gates (Wall Street Journal)

The ghost statistic that haunts women’s empowerment Kathryn Moeller (The New Yorker)

Academic papers

Understanding the economics of microbial threats: Proceedings of a Workshop (National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine). Disclosure — I chaired this workshop, but the content is provided by a superb group of economists, public health experts and epidemiologists.

Advancing global health and strengthening the HIV response in the era of the Sustainable Development Goals. (Lancet) A powerful exposition of how the exceptionalism of the Aids response can be harnessed to accelerate progress towards delivering SDG3.

Intertemporal dynamics of public financing for universal health coverage (World Bank Group). Because it all takes money!

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