Hope, horror and health: our fight against killer diseases

Hope, horror and health: our fight against killer diseases

We have been campaigning together for nearly two decades in the fight against AIDS. During this time, we’ve witnessed real progress in the fight against this deadly disease, but great peril remains. Now we need to share with you all an update on the battle, and what you can do to help humanity win in its epic campaign against our most ancient enemy: infectious diseases.

The hope: 4,000 lives saved every day

First, the good news. We wrote this blog on 30 March 2019. We can happily report that about 4,000 fewer people died on that day from AIDS, TB or malaria than would have died on 30 March 1999. In the intervening two decades, activists campaigned together and demanded increased funding, improved research and reduced pricing of key medicines. We pressured for more support for brave nurses and doctors fighting on the frontlines against these diseases. And as a result, we have nearly halved the deaths from AIDS and malaria, an extraordinary achievement, helping to save over 27 million lives. If you have been part of this campaign or are a health worker on the frontlines: THANK YOU. You’re showing this is a fight humanity can win.

The horror: 1,000 women contract HIV every day

Despite all this progress – and grand, global commitments – the scale of the tragedy is still overwhelming. Almost 1,000 adolescent girls and young women will contract HIV today. AIDS is now the leading killer of women under 50 years old. 7,000 people will still die of AIDS, TB or malaria on the day you read this blog.

How are these awful facts not famous? Why is this not on the news every night – or, at least, just once?

Well, we know why – because facts only tell part of the story. These statistics are first and foremost human stories, so this is where one of our voices takes over…

Health hero Agnes – nurse and activist

“My name is Agnes Nyamayarwo, and I am no statistic on a spreadsheet – I’m a Ugandan nurse and an activist.

“In 1992, I tested HIV-positive soon after my husband’s death. As a mother, I didn’t only worry about my health, but also that of my ten children who I knew would become orphans if I died. Moreover, this all came with stigma and discrimination to the whole family. This stigma caused my 16-year-old son to suffer depression and ultimately a mental breakdown. He disappeared a year later, and we have never found him.”

“The most painful part of my journey was when my youngest son, Chris, fell sick aged 5 and was diagnosed with HIV. I felt so helpless and guilty for having passed on the virus to him unknowingly. He sadly died one and a half years after his diagnosis. Watching him suffer with the illness caused horrific pain that I don’t wish any other mother to ever go through.”

“When we gathered at TASO (The AIDS Support Organisation) in Kampala, Uganda, I heard many similarly sad stories from others and their families. TASO provided a forum for us to share and have a sense of belonging as well as an opportunity to access medication. In 2002, Bono, Jamie and other activists visited and heard my story. They were so moved and angered they encouraged me to join their team as they campaigned across the “Heart of America” for increased funding for the fight against AIDS.”

“It’s amazing and beautiful that good people across America, Europe and the world listened to stories like mine, and this brought to life the awful facts of our struggle. Now more than half the people in the world who need the lifesaving drugs have them, thanks to people like you who listened and took action. Thank you! We must now build on that partnership to beat back these killer diseases and deliver health security for all.”

Funding the fight

So what now? One goal must be to dramatically increase funding for the fight. The average government spend per person on health in least developed countries is approximately US$31 a year. In contrast, the UK spends US$3,100 per person, and the USA US$8,000. This disparity is shocking, startling, and simply unacceptable. The amazing health workers fighting at the frontlines – the nurses and doctors in clinics across Africa – need more support. Backing these health heroes is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing too. The global community has a real stake in their struggle – today, diseases can spread faster than ever before. By suppressing their spread in lower income countries, we are helping ensure health security for all.

First and foremost developing countries need to increase their domestic funding for health. At a recent African Union Summit, leaders made more great promises to fund health. These commitments must now be delivered, and underpinned by the latest data and digital innovations. Only then will citizens, partners and patients become empowered citizens – able to track, through open budgets and open contracts, whether funds were really invested, and money and medicines provided.

International partners must also step up the fight, especially for the poorest countries. Two excellent mechanisms to help raise and invest resources are Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

Since we started campaigning together against the AIDS emergency and for the creation of the Global Fund, this multi-party mechanism has helped save over 27 million lives. To continue this lifesaving work, the Global Fund now needs a minimum of US$14 billion at its Replenishment Conference in Lyon, France this October. This US$14 billion – and the domestic investments it helps catalyse – would help reduce deaths from these diseases from about 7,000 to 3,500 each day, and reduce infections amongst adolescent girls and young women from about 1,000 to under 400 each day. These figures are approximations because the data quality when it comes to facts about the most marginalised women and girls, is not yet good enough. Such a scale of reduction would, however, help drive a clear trajectory towards near zero new infections and deaths by 2030 – one of the key Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

The Global Fund is an innovative, accountable partnership critical in achieving these Goals. It has now hit a scale where full funding will help save 16 million lives over the next 3 years. Ireland has already committed to increase its funding by at least 50%. We now need similar leadership from the French hosts, Germany, UK, USA and all other countries with a smart conscience.

What we don’t understand is how miserly or short-sighted certain wealthy countries must be, that it has not occurred to them to invest any money in this fight. Take wealthy nations like Austria or Finland – why do these nations currently give nothing at all? We hope that citizens of these countries would be ashamed if they knew – and would demand their governments not embarrass them like this.

Similarly, look at so many of the largest companies and world’s billionaires. A US$1 million contribution can help save nearly 1,000 lives. For a US$1bn you can help save nearly a million. These billionaires and big corporations can’t just hide behind Bill Gates’ generosity – they need to beat him by giving more. We need more of their famed competitive spirit in this fight. They can start by engaging with Product REDwhich helps the private sector raise money for the Global Fund, and by following Aliko Dangote’s pledge to give at least 1% a year to health.

There is a real risk that the world may not find the full US$14 billion, it may fall a billion short and let a million people die. Whether we do or don’t raise these funds must be a global priority for us all; a referendum on humanity’s collective compassion and thirst for justice, equality, and cooperation.

So we leave you with an ask. Please become a “factivist” in this fight – a passionate activist armed with compelling facts and actions to share. If you care about gender equality, fight for the Global Fund. If you care about human rights, fight for the Global Fund. If you care about the fight against corruption and for an empowered citizenry, fight for the Global Fund. And when we’ve won this battle, then fight for vaccines, fight for health-workers, and keep on fighting for humanity’s health security. We will keep fighting infectious diseases like AIDS and campaigning for health security for us all, until the day we die.

Add your name to tell world leaders they must join this fight. Then share the action with your family and friends.


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