Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Global Fund is key to Millennium Goals by Winstone Zulu

Global Fund is key to Millennium Goals

By Winstone Zulu

When President Obama comes to the United Nations this month to discuss the Millennium Development Goals, I hope he’ll talk about the tremendous impact of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Actually, I hope he’ll do more than talk about the Global Fund’s impact. I hope… No, I pray he will announce a new three-year commitment of $6 billion that will not only allow the Global Fund to continue its life-saving work, but also expand its reach to finally turn the tide on diseases that have terrorized millions.

Without the Global Fund, much of Africa would be falling apart now, which was the case at the turn of the century when AIDS was killing off so many mothers and fathers, teachers and civil servants. In 2003, however, when Global Fund-backed programs began placing patients on antiretroviral therapy, hope was restored.

In Zambia, where I live, the difference is miraculous.

It’s hard for outsiders to fully grasp the devastation that swept across the continent in those years. Whenever I visited Lusaka, I was afraid to ask the whereabouts of people I knew. Oftentimes the answer was, “Didn’t you hear?” Nothing else needed to be said.

It wasn’t only friends and acquaintances I lost during that horrible time. All four of my brothers, their immune systems likely compromised by HIV, died from tuberculosis because they lacked access to $20 worth of antibiotics that could have cured them. They left behind over a dozen children who grew up without fathers.

The AIDS epidemic in Zambia was so bad in the mid ’90s that employers would train two people at a time for an accounting job, knowing that one would die within a year or two. The worst of it, though, was the children left orphaned. So many of them had to drop out of school and go begging in the streets for food.

This grim scene changed when the Global Fund started supporting programs that provided treatment for people with AIDS and TB.

Now when I visit a town and ask, “Where’s John?”, the answer is not “Didn’t you hear?” The response is more likely to be, “He went to Botswana for work” or “He went to South Africa to go to school.”

In short, the Global Fund stopped the terror that was literally draining the life out of our society, our culture and our economy. The Global Fund has helped deliver AIDS treatment to 2.8 million people, detected and treated 7 million cases of TB, and distributed 122 million bed nets to prevent malaria.

To deliver these results, the Global Fund created a new model of development assistance. Developing countries assess their needs and come up with their own proposals and the amount of funding needed to achieve measurable goals. An independent panel of experts evaluates proposals, and grants are awarded. Countries are then held accountable for achieving the goals in their proposals, with progress measured on a regular basis.

As we near the 2015 deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, it’s clear that the Global Fund can play a decisive role in achieving the goals related to global health. In our interconnected world, these are goals that, if achieved, will lift all nations, not just the poor ones.

Last year, President Obama announced a six-year, $63 billion Global Health Initiative. Committing just $6 billion of this over the upcoming three years to the Global Fund would help ensure the success of the President’s Initiative, leverage other donor resources for the Global Fund, and help achieve some truly remarkable goals. With sufficient resources, the Global Fund can help ensure that by 2015 no children are born with HIV, malaria is no longer a public health scourge in much of Africa, and dangerous drug-resistant strains of TB are under control.

Having witnessed Zambia before and after the Global Fund, I much prefer the latter. Rather than return to those dark times, which could happen if support for the Global Fund waivers, let us usher in a new era, one where children have mothers and fathers to care for them, and a where a friend’s absence is more likely to be a cause for joy instead of sorrow.

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