In the midst of the many meetings and conferences that surround the UN General Assembly this week, the UK secretary of state for international development, the Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, made an announcement that will save millions of lives and protect the health and well-being of millions of others. That announcement was new support of £1billion for the work of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB, and Malaria.
The announcement came, fittingly, at a session on the success of the current Millennium Development Goals. That Greening chose to make the UK's historic commitment to protect and support the health of the poorest and most marginalised people in this particular meeting is no accident: good health is an essential foundation for development, and the Global Fund is an almost textbook example of how to do health right.
HIV, TB and malaria are three of the deadliest diseases in human history. Even today, in the 21st Century, they still claim more than three million lives a year and afflict the health of hundreds of millions of others.
Economically, the impact of these diseases represents a millstone around the neck of the global economy. TB alone was recently estimated to cost the European Union over €5bn a year, which is even more astonishing given that the EU has less than 5% of TB cases globally. For our future economic prosperity, we must rid the world of these diseases.
We can try to quantify in monetary terms the cost of each life lost to these three diseases, but in reality this will never express the preventable tragedies that are each of the 600,000 children under the age of five who die from malaria, and of each of the 1.7million people who die from AIDS. We can't put a price on the crushing impact of a disease like TB, which has created 10 million orphans and takes 1.4million lives each year.
But even if we can't measure the true toll, we can do something about it. Eleven years ago the Global Fund was created to focus global efforts to fight HIV, TB and malaria and to lead the push towards their elimination as public health threats. This pledge will continue that work, meaning up to 750,000 people will receive HIV treatment, up to 1 million will receive care and treatment for TB and up to 32million nets will be distributed to protect men, women and children all around the world from malaria.
The work of the Global Fund, supported by its partners with both funding and in implementation, has taken us to an historic moment - a tipping point. Due to the tremendous progress we have made in the fight, with the newest technologies and understanding we have about these diseases, we can see the real possibility of their elimination as a public health threat in my lifetime.
Ensuring the Global Fund has the financial support it needs to do its job would represent the first step along the path to freeing humankind of some of its deadliest foes. It will save millions of lives, support hundreds of millions in freeing themselves from poverty, and help unchain economic growth across the developing world. If we fail to do so, the cost of inaction (detailed in a recent report), is enormous.
Since the very beginning, the UK government has been one of the most steadfast supporters of the Global Fund, building international support for it and being one its most generous donors. This strong commitment from the UK reaffirms its leading role and lays down a challenge to other donors like Australia, Japan, Germany, and Canada to give, and give generously. Most importantly, it is a strong statement that the UK government will stand beside the millions of people who battle these diseases every year.
The Global Fund is the right organisation, supporting it is the right thing to do, and there has been no better moment to intensify the fight against Aids, TB, and Malaria than now. With the help of visionary donors like the UK this is a battle that we can, and will, win.