UN Special Envoy Ray Chambers: Saving money, saving lives

Guest Commentary

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is one of the great success stories of international cooperation and U.S. foreign aid. Since 2002, it has supported more than 1,000 programs in 151 countries, efforts that have saved millions of lives from three horrible diseases. The United States has every right to feel proud of these accomplishments; its bipartisan leadership has provided the Global Fund with essential funding while also encouraging other donors to give generously.  

Next week the U.S. government will host the Global Fund’s Fourth Voluntary Replenishment meeting. For the uninitiated, this is something that takes place once every three years, bringing together donors who will announce how much money they might be able to provide to the Global Fund to fight the diseases. 

Donor confidence in the Global Fund is higher than ever, thanks to a deft turnaround in 2012 by Gabriel Jaramillo and to inspiring leadership from Dr. Mark Dybul, who took the reins earlier this year. Dr. Dybul, along with other leaders, makes a convincing case that an aggressive effort now has the potential to break the back of these diseases, getting them to a point where developing countries can fund their own reduced disease burdens in the future. I believe he is correct. 

One of the reasons that the Global Fund is so important is because of the streamlined way it procures medical supplies and drugs. The possibilities for savings are significant. Approximately 50 percent of Global Fund grant spending is allocated toward purchasing health products, equipment and services, with nearly $600 million per year spent on drugs alone and another $500 million spent on health equipment, goods and services.

Recently, I was inspired to take part in an unprecedented, Global Fund-led effort to lower the costs and improve the procurement of insecticide-treated nets for malaria prevention. The Global Fund joined hands with three other major buyers of mosquito nets — the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, UNICEF and the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative — to bring their joint purchasing power to the table in procurement negotiations. 

This initiative will reduce the costs of mosquito nets procured, reduce bottlenecks and shortages in countries where malaria threatens the lives of hundreds of millions of people — mostly children — and allow savings to be reinvested into programs that will help us achieve the malaria reduction targets laid out in the Millennium Development Goals. For the Global Fund alone, it has led to cost savings of $51 million this year — savings that can now be put back into more malaria prevention programs. The organization anticipates that it will lead to a total savings of $140 million over the next two years.

A plan is now being developed in partnership with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the South African government to similarly review and streamline procurement processes for antiretroviral medicines, a program likely to be implemented in 2014. This will be followed by efforts to leverage the Global Fund’s purchasing power for diagnostic tools and male circumcisions.

The Global Fund represents the best there is when it comes to smart spending to save lives and defeat disease. Money committed to the organization is money well spent. While its processes are rooted in the smartest financial management, its impact is as human as it gets: saving or improving more precious lives. 

Too rarely do we celebrate our foreign aid successes. The Global Fund is an investment that should make all Americans proud. 

Chambers is the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Financing the Health Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and for Malaria.