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Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu is head of global partnerships at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria which was estabished at the G-8 Summit in 2001 to fight global diesease. The G-8 will meet next weekend at Evian, France.

By Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu

GENEVA -- When the leaders of the Group of Eight wealthiest industrialized countries (G-8) meet this weekend in France in the aftermath of the war in Iraq, among the global issues they will review is the progress of "the other war" -- the war against global health pandemics such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The G-8 nations can make a difference to the outcome of this war.

The metaphor of war, used by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan when he issued a call to global action to confront and reverse the impact of the AIDS pandemic, is an apt one. AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria kill 6 million people every year and wreak their havoc on a daily basis: AIDS claims 15,000 lives a day worldwide; a child expires from malaria every 30 seconds in Africa. As the SARS and the mosquito-borne West Nile viruses clearly demonstrate, the mobility of infectious diseases has become part of the phenomenon of globalization.

It is not just a public health crisis, though that in itself is enough reason to act. These diseases entrench poverty and destabilize economies, security and whole societies in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe. The world's response, articulated by Annan and agreed by the G-8 summit in Genoa in 2001, was to establish a global fund, a "war chest" to finance credible prevention and treatment programs to beat back the epidemics. This was a concrete step beyond rhetoric.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, an independent and international public-private partnership in Geneva that has brought governments, civil society and private corporations together in the fight against these diseases, is up and running. In the past year alone it has committed $1.5 billion to 160 programs to prevent and treat the diseases in 92 countries. Unusually, these programs are designed by local communities that are affected by the diseases and know their priorities, not by the fund in Geneva. Half a million people in developing countries will receive lifesaving antiretroviral AIDS medicines that are beyond the reach of the poor. Fifty-five countries have established or strengthened HIV/AIDS prevention programs with the Global Fund's grants. Those grants are funding the purchase of 30 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets in Africa that effectively prevent malaria, but are unaffordable for millions of families that need them.

But the fund is running low on cash and pledges and now needs to be replenished. This will require resources largely from the G-8 and other wealthy countries that created it, but also from others, including the poorer countries it assists and wealthy private corporations that have so far contributed very little.

It is important that the G-8 nations, which made initial contributions that enabled the fund to take off, not balk at the large, sustained flow of money required to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria over the next decade. The absence of resources has been the hitherto missing link in the war against diseases of poverty. Annan called for a minimum of $10 billion to be spent annually to fight AIDS alone, much of it through the global fund. Beating back malaria will require spending $2 billion every year.

We live in a world of many crises and multiple needs, all deserving attention and resources. But HIV/AIDS remains the world's gravest humanitarian emergency today and the greatest threat to future generations. The political will and vision of the world's leaders -- unlocking new money to back programs that make a sustainable difference to the lives of real people on the ground -- will reverse its impact and that of tuberculosis and malaria. The response should match the threat -- before it is too late.

Fighting the pandemics effectively today will cost far less than tomorrow's financial burden of inaction or palliative half-measures. The war against global health epidemics must be fought with the strategic seriousness of purpose that it deserves. A blue ribbon commission impaneled by the World Health Organization has established the incontrovertible link between the health and wealth of nations. Any hope that Africa, for example, can be pulled out of poverty without tackling these three pandemics that threaten the continent's population with extinction is misplaced.

Some African leaders have realized this and are demonstrating the necessary leadership in the fight against diseases of poverty. A global Marshall Plan that combines international financing and domestic resources from the affected countries to fight global health pandemics with other measures, such as effective debt relief and access to medicines, is in the enlightened self-interest of rich and poor nations. It will enhance the stability and economic productivity of developing countries and increase mutually beneficial global trade and investment.

(c) 2003, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 5/27/03)