There are some extraordinarily important challenges for our generation. Many seem insurmountable. But there are two where real progress is happening and the end is, if not in sight, then possible to scientifically envisage within our lifetimes. Our generation could end deaths from two of the greatest diseases mankind has ever faced, HIV/Aids and malaria. The greatest threat to this is a very human frailty, that of not finishing something off before moving on. But if we can do it - what a legacy it would be to future generations.
Sunday 1 December is World Aids Day - at Malaria No More UK we stand shoulder to shoulder with everyone whose lives have been affected and all those working tirelessly to fight this deadly yet preventable epidemic.
Aids, like malaria and TB, is a disease that generates terrible and needless suffering. We're fortunate in the UK to have eliminated malaria (it used to be a mass killer here) and to have quick and easy access to antiretroviral treatment enabling those living with HIV long and healthy lives. However elsewhere in the world, every minute a young child somewhere is infected with malaria and a young woman contracts HIV. Both desperately need access to prevention and treatment we easily take for granted. World Aids Day is a day to spur ourselves on for action and refusal to accept that this is how things will continue to be.
Unsurprisingly, there is a vicious circle between malaria and HIV/Aids. They coexist in many parts of the world. Infection with one can make infection with the other worse and more difficult to treat. A pregnant mum, for example, is already three times more likely to catch severe malaria. HIV adds horrible complications making malaria in pregnancy more severe, with more illness and serious risks of anaemia and low birth weight of the baby.
The good news is that the world is taking these diseases seriously and has demonstrated that by setting up a body tasked with co-ordinating and delivering the fight against the three major global diseases, The Global Fund to fight Aids, TB and Malaria. The Fund currently supports antiretroviral treatment for 5.3million people, that's the equivalent of the whole of Scotland. Since setting up in 2002, The Fund has also provided more than 340million nets to those threatened by malaria.
Both diseases are seeing tremendous progress: In the last decade there's been a 50% global reduction in HIV incidence and 26% drop in malaria deaths.
Dr Akudo Anyanwu Ikemba founded Friends of the Global Fund Africa as an African voice in support of the Fund's vital work. She reflects:
"The work of The Global Fund has made it possible for one of our ambassadors living with HIV/Aids to stay healthier and actively committed in the fight against stigma and discrimination. With a 50% reduction in HIV incidence and with a 200% increase in the number of people receiving HIV treatment around the world it is very important and almost life threatening if we do not keep up the momentum"
The next decade is one of immense opportunity. Through the Global Fund we are poised to save a further 5.8million lives in the next three years, more than three lives every minute. It's a huge figure but imagine if one of them was your son, your daughter, your wife, your mum.
The next few days will determine the extent to which these lives can be saved and protected. Early next week, leaders from around the world will gather at The Global Fund's Replenishment in Washington DC. Countries will pledge their support and have the opportunity to unlock major pledges already given by the US and UK Governments. Here's what Ben Simms, Director of STOPAIDS had to say:
"Justine Greening's historic support for The Global Fund means the UK public can draw great pride from the lifesaving efforts of the world's most effective weapon in the response to Aids, malaria and TB. But it is also a reality check: unless others match this ambition these three diseases will continue to claim people's lives in their millions. This World Aids Day we remember the 35million who have lost their lives to Aids and call on all governments to follow the UK's lead."
Britain is willing and ready to commit funding which could put 750,000 people on lifesaving antiretroviral therapy, distribute 35million mosquito nets and help protect a million people from TB. Britain is a true leader in the fight against these diseases. Now, other Governments and donors need to step and share the responsibility. Germany, Canada, Australia and Japan top the list of those we will look to over the coming few days.