Here’s more of what’s needed. Strong celebrity support in today’s Guardian of International efforts to achieve what now seems possible: Ending AIDS. It won’t happen though unless there is the political push not just in England, but here in the U.S., to fund Treatment as Prevention programs to end AIDS on a worldwide scale. That is why YOUR support and effort is also needed. So ACT UP!
Make AIDS History by Elton John
This month’s G8 summit has a real chance to turn the tide. It must not give up on the job it started eight years ago
This month the UK will once again host the leaders of the eight richest economies in the world – the G8. Their goal: to review global priorities.
The humanitarian focus will be on nutrition. Understandably so: one in eight of the world’s population experience hunger, and 2 million children die every year.
It’s laudable that, despite our domestic woes, we are still able to prioritise the needs of those who are so much worse off than ourselves. And it’s particularly laudable that the UK is the largest economy – the only G8 government – to hold firm to the commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on development.
This isn’t just the right thing to do, driven by some unrealistic bleeding-heart agenda, but – if done properly and strategically – it’s also the smart thing to do. It’s in our self-interest. 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 – when the UK last hosted those powerful leaders – 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 [Treatment as Prevention]. 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 precisely and 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.
At my foundation we look at three critical measures of success: the number of people we’ve helped protect from HIV infection or from dying of Aids; the cost of this; and the sustainability of the programmes we’ve supported. Our feeling is that unless you can measure the value, and it continues to do the job after you’ve gone, we haven’t done well enough. Development aid should do at least this. You don’t abandon the investment as efficiencies start to kick in with better value for money, you don’t give up just when the science proves you can sustain it, and you don’t reduce your contribution when you know you can leverage more than double your share.
The UK has always been a leader on development – a show of commitment from the UK will pull others along too. Every £100 the UK gives to the Global Fund now unlocks an extra £50 from the US.President Obama has asked the US congress to give $1.65bn to the Global Fund next year, with a total of $5bn over the next three years. The US is the biggest donor to the Global Fund, and has a rule saying it will never provide more than a third of the funds. That big ambition sets a clear challenge to other governments, foundations and companies.
The UK can make sure the Global Fund has enough money to turn the tide of history. Now is the moment to put serious money behind that hope: doubling its last contribution, putting in £1bn over the next 3 years, will boost the Global Fund’s ability to achieve its goals and persuade others to do the right thing too. By capitalising on a historic opportunity now, Aids won’t need to be on the table when the UK chairs the G8 in 2021.