Other Voices

Global HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB fight counts on — and benefits — US, Texas

27 million.

That’s how many lives have been saved by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria since its start in 2002.

The Global Fund invests in programs that prevent the further spread of these diseases and provide treatment to those afflicted by them around the world.

The Global Fund is a partnership between governments, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector. The United States, thanks to the leadership of President George W. Bush, has led the world in this vision of a world free from the burden of these three deadly diseases. Although more than 65% of the countries the fund invests in are in Sub-Saharan Africa, it is truly a global fund with programs in Eastern Europe, Asia and Central and South America.

We all know about the scourge of AIDS, but many of us don’t realize that TB is one of the Top 10 causes of death worldwide. In 2017, TB killed 1.6 million people, and has now surpassed HIV as the world’s leading infectious killer.

Malaria, caused by a mosquito-borne parasite, has long been one of the world’s deadliest diseases. With almost half a million deaths in 2017, it is still a major threat, particularly to pregnant women and children under the age of 5.

The good news is that we are making substantial progress. The number of deaths caused by AIDS and TB has been cut by more than one-third in the countries where the Global Fund invests. The death rate from malaria has dropped by 60% since 2000.

In the process, countries have been revitalized and stabilized, robust local health-care systems are now in place, economies have been strengthened and mothers infected with HIV can now give birth to children without passing on the virus.

The U.S. currently invests $1.35 billion a year in the Global Fund. The U.S. leads by providing up to one-third of the total funding, but other contributors — including other nations, private and public foundations, and even countries receiving the aid — meet our challenge by providing the other two-thirds.

Stepping up the fight to reach the goal of ending these epidemics, the Global Fund is asking its donors to increase their support by 15%.

The House of Representatives’ State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Committee has proposed $1.56 billion for the Global Fund in next year’s budget. That’s a significant amount, but all of the Global Health programs combined represent less than one-quarter of 1% of the total federal budget.

Every week, around 7,000 young women aged 15–24 become infected with HIV. Sibulele Sibaca, a young woman from South Africa who recently visited Fort Worth, told us that highly effective HIV medications are now readily available in her country, but many people still are not getting treatment due to stigma and lack of access. For example, currently most of the clinics are open only on weekdays during the day, which means many students and workers can’t get there.

She dreams of clinics that are open on weekends and in the evening. An increase in the Global Fund would make her dream a reality.

Many people question the need to invest in medical initiatives in foreign countries when we seemingly have so many unmet healthcare challenges at home. Aside from the moral reasons for saving so many lives, there are practical benefits for the U.S. from these programs.

The Ebola cases in Texas a few years ago demonstrated that every infectious disease in the world is just a few hours’ plane ride away from our doorstep. Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis has now emerged as a significant global threat that is extremely expensive and difficult to treat, even in the U.S.

It is prudent to treat and contain this and other severe pathogens before they spread and wreak havoc on the world.

We also know our healthcare providers who travel to developing countries become more adept at treating these conditions and bring these skills home to benefit local patients. U.S. physicians who spend significant time working in resource-poor settings in other countries are statistically more likely to care for disadvantaged populations when they return home.

The new TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine will accentuate this process in Tarrant County by emphasizing global health training for its students and recruiting faculty with worldwide experiences.

We urge the Trump administration and Congress to continue our nation’s leadership in this vitally important program to rid the world of the burden of these three deadly diseases.

Rev. Craig C. Roshaven is a Fort Worth resident and a volunteer with RESULTS, a movement of passionate, committed everyday people who use their voices to influence political decisions that will bring an end to poverty.
Dr. Ric Bonnell is a pediatrician and dedicated to providing care to indigent children in North Texas and the developing world. He currently teaches Global Health courses at TCU.
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