World Health Day: It's time to fight preventable disease

Though you wouldn’t know it from watching the news, AIDS, TB, and malaria remain global emergencies. In 2017, nearly one million people died from AIDS-related illnesses, another 10 million people fell ill with TB, and after 10 years of steady declines, malaria cases are now back on the rise.

These statistics are so infuriating because we have the opportunity to eliminate these diseases. That’s why as we mark World Health Day, April 7, we must recommit to fighting preventable disease around the globe.

One of the best tools we have at our disposal to end these terrible diseases is the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Created in the early 2000s, the Global Fund is an innovative partnership between governments, civil society, the private sector, and people affected by the diseases.

In places like Kenya and South Africa, the Global Fund is supporting programs that aim to keep girls and women in school and offer them additional educational and social support while battling disease. In Lesotho, the Fund has invested in preventing the transmission of HIV from mothers to their children. In Afghanistan, the Global Fund invests in community health nurses who deliver TB care in remote communities.

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Because of its effectiveness, transparency and track record of success, support for the Global Fund has remained one of the few issues in Washington that hasn’t been dragged into the political mud. It was a Republican president, George W. Bush, who first launched PEPFAR and was the first contributor to the Global Fund, and it was President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaIt's Joe Biden's 2020 presidential nomination to lose Assange hit with 17 new charges, including Espionage Act violations Progressive commentator says Obama was delusional thinking he could work with Republicans MORE who built on those results and expanded the program. Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress have steadfastly increased funding for the Global Fund as the program has become more efficient.

The United States has played an irreplaceable role in supporting the Global Fund, contributing $1 for every $2 contributed by other donors. Our contributions to the Global Fund have leveraged investments from other donors and implementing countries as well, which, when combined, have helped save 27 million lives.

Last week, before the House Appropriations Committee, even Secretary Pompeo acknowledged that the Global Fund is one of the most effective investments for taxpayers. In 2017, United States taxpayers helped provide 5.5 million people with antiretroviral treatment, treat over 1.5 million people with TB and distribute over 62 million mosquito nets through the country’s contribution and the domestic resources it leveraged. It’s a program that every American should be proud of, but we still have our work cut out for us.

In 2017, nearly a million people died from AIDS-related illnesses while TB remains the leading infectious disease killer in the world, killing 1.3 million people in 2017. Now is the time for us to be doing more to fight preventable diseases, not less.

This year at the State of the Union, President TrumpDonald John TrumpPapadopoulos on AG's new powers: 'Trump is now on the offense' Pelosi uses Trump to her advantage Mike Pence delivers West Point commencement address MORE pledged to “defeat AIDS in America and beyond.” However, just weeks later, he proposed a budget that would cut America’s commitment to Global Fund. The proposal would fund the initiative at $1.1 billion in FY20 — far short of the $1.56 billion needed to ensure the Global Fund meets its replenishment target. 

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According to Friends of the Global Fight, if enacted, the President’s budget shortfall would mean 874,000 fewer people would receive antiretroviral therapy, 621,000 fewer people would receive TB care and treatment and 24 million fewer mosquito nets would be distributed to protect children and families from malaria. That’s why it’s so important for Congress to send a powerful message by funding the Global Fund at $1.56 billion, which together with global contributions and domestic investments, could help save 16 million more lives by 2023, cut the mortality rate from AIDS, TB, and malaria in half, and put us on the path to end these three killers for good.

With everything that is happening in the United States, it’s easy to forget that preventable diseases remain a major problem. However, these diseases don’t respect borders; this is a global problem that requires a global solution and American leadership goes a long way. Committing $1.56 billion to the Global Fund in this year’s budget is one of the best ways for lawmakers to fight preventable disease and send a strong signal to other donors so that they do their share.

Winning the fight against preventable diseases like AIDS, TB, and malaria is possible. But getting there requires our leaders to continue America’s strong support for programs like the Global Fund that are helping save millions lives.

Tom Hart is the North America executive director of The ONE Campaign, a policy and advocacy organization with millions of people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. Prior to joining ONE, Mr. Hart was Director of Government Relations for the Episcopal Church, USA, and an aide to Senators Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) and Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerBottom Line World Health Day: It's time to fight preventable disease Lobbying World MORE (D-W.Va.).