This month Britain will once again host the leaders of the eight richest economies in the world — the G8. Their goal: to review global priorities. But I worry. With each new priority we seem to leave former gains unfinished. That does not make sense. Development means being there for the long run, to see things through, to get the job done.
So let’s talk about Aids — an issue I’ve been deeply involved with for the past 20 years. Eight years ago, Aids was a big story. The G8 pledged to get close to “the goal of universal access to comprehensive prevention programmes, treatment, care and support by 2010”.
This was a massive game-changer. The former UN secretary general Kofi Annan credits that G8 with getting 5.4 million people on antiviral treatments, with most of the drugs paid for by the Global Fund to Fight Aids, tuberculosis and malaria. The results of that G8 can be counted in lives saved, health services revitalised, hope re-born. Around the world, governments that were struggling had new evidence that donors were sincere, and would help them meet their people’s needs.
And science has amplified that success. The last couple of years brought proof that when people with HIV take antiviral drugs to stay healthy, their risk of passing on the virus drops dramatically. This is another game-changer. Scientists have also now shown that we can interrupt HIV transmission by understanding the places and people most at risk. Public health experts can target new interventions effectively.
The Global Fund and UNAIDS have calculated that $15bn (£9.6bn) over the next three years could turn the tide of history. It might sound a lot, but what it would achieve is staggering. In three short years a total of 18 million people could be on life-saving drugs — that also slow the rate of HIV being passed on. This investment would turn the curve of the epidemic. And it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The new head of the Global Fund, Mark Dybul, is urging donors to invest in the right places, at the right time, in the right way. Putting more money into the Global Fund now is not just pouring more money into an ever-increasing pot — it’s about growing the impact of the investments that have already happened, so we don’t have to invest so much in 10 years’ time. This is extraordinary, history-worthy stuff. We can neutralise perhaps the most deadly infectious disease in history in our lifetime.
The window is just as critical with other diseases covered by the Global Fund. There has been a massive scale-up of effort with malaria, and death rates are falling in many places. Yet we know that if you pull back from distributing bed nets, within one rainy season rates will increase rapidly.
As Dybul puts it: “If we slow malaria programmes now, we will lose 10 years’ investments in one generation.” Similarly, with current efforts we will end TB in 2200. But if we combine our efforts on TB and HIV, we can control it within a decade. Globally, HIV is the leading cause of death among women and girls of reproductive age.
Britain’s international development secretary, Justine Greening, has said that women and girls are top of her priority list. One simple way to turn that priority into action is to invest more in the Global Fund.