GENEVA -- World leaders meeting at a G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, in 2001 launched one of the most ambitious health initiatives in modern history when they announced the creation of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Eight years on, G8 leaders gathering in another Italian town, L'Aquila, have some good reason to celebrate. The Global Fund is growing fast and it has some major achievements to its credit. But the Global Fund is now at grave risk of losing momentum because demand for grant money from countries eligible for financing is fast outstripping the resources that the Global Fund has available to meet it. Failure to close this fast-growing "funding gap" will have dire consequences.
More than 3.5 million people, have been saved from the ravages of the three diseases. But for the existence of the Global Fund, they would almost certainly have died. Some 2.3 million people living with HIV/AIDS are now receiving life-saving antiretroviral therapy (ART), 5.5 million have received effective treatment for tuberculosis and nearly 90 million bed nets, which provide vital protection for small children from malaria-bearing mosquitoes, have been distributed. However, far more needs to be done for there to be a chance of meeting the Millennium Development Goals in the next five years. It is estimated that less than 40 percent of people requiring ART currently have access to treatment. That is why it is so crucial that the Global Fund obtains the additional funding that it so urgently needs.
It is the very success of hundreds of health programs supported by the Global Fund that has produced the surge in demand for fresh grants from countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. The Global Fund now faces a shortfall of $170 million this year year which it must fill in order to meet all its commitments to finance new grants approved late in 2008. The Global Fund is asking G8 leaders to help close this gap.
With countries lodging carefully costed and highly detailed requests for new grants under the present round of grant-giving -- the 9th in the Global Fund's history -- a further funding shortfall of up to $3 billion is anticipated for 2010. Failure to meet this shortfall would deal a heavy blow to one of the most successful global health programs in history, which has not only had a significant impact on three of the deadliest diseases in the developing world but is also helping many countries to train health professionals, upgrade badly needed medical equipment and develop modern and effective health systems. In addition, it has helped to build a unique bond of trust between the donor community and implementing countries.
Maintaining these vital health services is more important than ever in a time of economic downturn, which inevitably hits the poorest, first. The Global Fund has proven to be a good investment, bringing hope to millions around the world. The best thing the G8 could do to celebrate the Fund's success is offer hope to millions more.
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