We can’t afford to let Covid-19 derail progress tackling other infectious diseases
As we return from recess, it’s clear that infectious diseases didn’t take a summer vacation.
This week the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (Global Fund) released its Results Report. The report highlights that the Global Fund partnership has saved 44 million lives since 2002.
I am proud that the UK government was a founder of the Global Fund and has been a critical contributor in the fights against HIV, TB and malaria. These investments have helped produce extraordinary results. But we’re now seeing Covid-19 derail progress – for the first time in Global Fund history, key programmatic results for HIV, TB and malaria declined.
For example, whilst the Global Fund was still able to reach an impressive 8.7 million people with HIV prevention services last year – this is an 11 per cent decrease from 2019 due to Covid-19. This will mean more HIV transmissions and delays in people starting treatment. And similar alarming roll-backs are seen across TB and malaria too.
In countries where the Global Fund invests, AIDS-related deaths have dropped by 65 per cent since the Global Fund was founded in 2002
But the Global Fund’s rapid and determined response to Covid-19 prevented an even worse outcome. The Global Fund responded quickly and at scale to the new pandemic, mobilizing and approving an additional US$3.3bn as of August 2021 to more than 100 countries to fight Covid-19. This critical funding helped to protect front-line workers, and adapt lifesaving HIV, TB and malaria programs.
This ability to still deliver impact in the most difficult of circumstances shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the Global Fund’s impressive track-record. The Global Fund was created 20 years ago to fight the world’s three deadliest epidemics: HIV, TB and malaria. Fuelled by critical UK Aid investments, Global Fund-supported programs have saved 44 million lives since 2002. For example, in countries where the Global Fund invests, AIDS-related deaths have dropped by 65 per cent since the Global Fund was founded in 2002. In the absence of HIV prevention and treatment measures, deaths would have increased by 176 per cent in the same period.
But as highlighted by the report, everything the Global Fund & UK Aid investments have fought for is at risk. Deaths caused by AIDS, TB and malaria are likely to increase substantially as a result of indirect impacts of the pandemic. Without urgent action, this will jeopardise progress and bring a significant human and financial toll.
We cannot neglect the three diseases to tackle Covid-19. We must recognise that this is now one and the same fight. We must scale up investments to fight all four diseases at once and expand innovations and adaptation measures now. We should remember that many low and middle income countries’ responses to Covid-19 are often based on the infrastructure that the Global Fund has created. The Global Fund invests $1bn a year in health systems – more than any other single multilateral institution. These are critical building blocks of pandemic preparedness and response. Without the Global Fund’s investments, Covid-19’s devastation in lower income countries would’ve been even worse.
In 2019 the UK government made an ambitious £1.4bn pledge to the Global Fund’s 6th Replenishment. Similar leadership from the UK Government will be critical to regain lost ground and put an end to these epidemics.
With the reduced aid budget, I appreciate that difficult decisions were made and welcome that the UK government has protected its contributions to the Global Fund. But I hope the Results Report will be a wake-up call for the UK government. We mustn't sacrifice the impact that decades of UK Aid investments have made possible. To regain lost ground and prevent Covid-19 from having a catastrophic long-term impact on HIV, TB and malaria – and to defeat Covid-19 itself – we must scale up investments to fight all four diseases at once and expand innovations and adaptation measures now.
As ministers return from recess and make plans for the Spending Review & UK’s International Development Strategy, I hope they’ll show the same leadership as their predecessors who played a critical role in empowering the Global Fund to save 44 million lives. Support for the Global Fund should remain a central pillar of the UK’s International Development Strategy, evidenced by the full and timely disbursal of the current Global Fund pledge, and an early and ambitious pledge to the 7th replenishment in 2022.
Steve Brine is Conservative MP for Winchester, former public health minister and member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group HIV and AIDS
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