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Africa Offers New Partnership for Global Health

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As Africa's leaders assemble in the Union's impressive new chambers in Addis Ababa for the 19th African Union Summit, I am struck by the contrasting atmospheres of optimism and anxiety that hang in the air. Anxiety over the political crises plaguing the DRC, Guinea Bissau, Mali and South Sudan, which pose the potential of wider instability, and a slowly expanding humanitarian crisis linked to food insecurity. Meanwhile, optimism springs from the Continent's emerging position in the global order. Astute African leaders are striving to ensure that this realignment delivers a new paradigm of partnership for sustainable health development -- a partnership that is led by Africa, for Africans, through African-sourced solutions.

The Summit comes at an exciting time for the 54 countries of this complex Continent. Many have economies that are among the fastest-growing in the world. Industry and trade are taking off, creating a vibrant cycle of investment, enhanced productivity and sustainable growth. Governance is improving and Africans' lives are improving, too -- as measured by school enrollment, infant mortality and life expectancy. Africa is on the move.

In the context of African dynamism and the emergence of new development partners, particularly Brazil, China, India and the Gulf States, the traditional development cooperation framework of donor-recipient is no longer relevant. Under the leadership of Yayi Boni, Chair of the African Union and President of Benin, Africa is proposing a new approach -- one based on African leadership and anchored in shared responsibility and global solidarity. The idea is to reduce the Continent's dependence on foreign solutions and foreign "aid" while adopting and scaling up development solutions that have been proven to work in different African countries, and finding better and more sustainable approaches to financing them.

It makes a lot of sense to apply such an approach to addressing three killer diseases: AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria. Health is intrinsic to people's well-being and dignity, and it is also a prerequisite of economic participation and development. There is good news on this front. A record 6.2 million Africans are receiving life-saving antiretroviral treatment. Ten years ago no one would have imagined that such a result would be possible. But Africa must work harder to strengthen the life-line. Forty-four per cent of Africans who need such drugs still do not have access to them. And the overreliance of Africa's AIDS response on foreign investments, foreign drugs and foreign solutions must be addressed. More than 80 percent of treatment expenditures originate from international sources; the same proportion of drugs is imported from outside Africa.

The approach is spelled out in a "Roadmap for Shared Responsibility and Global Solidarity for AIDS, TB and Malaria," to be unveiled at the Summit. The Roadmap presents a bold and feasible approach to a number of challenges: diversifying sources of health financing, improving access to medicines through local production and regional market integration and pursuing more effective and equitable health governance that will deliver more evidence-informed responses that are also grounded deeply in human rights.

Much work is already underway. Three weeks ago the Africa Development Bank convened ministers of finance and health to review progress and identify further steps to increase the value-for-money of investments in AIDS and health programs. Ministers were impressed with the returns on such investments, and are committed to achieving even greater efficiencies and sustainability.

Development partners are already embracing the value of the emerging partnership. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently noted, achieving an AIDS-free generation will be very much a shared responsibility. And as participants converge in Washington, D.C., for the International AIDS Conference next week, shared responsibility and global solidarity is likely to feature prominently. The Roadmap will likely receive another boost next week at the Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing as leadership in China and the African continent share a common interest in fostering closer ties in health cooperation.

When I speak to Africans living with HIV, when I speak to African AIDS activists and when I speak to African leaders fighting AIDS, TB and malaria, they all express a profound gratitude for the global solidarity the world has expressed to them in the form of financing, drugs and common humanity to address and overcome the emergency of AIDS. Remarkable progress has been made, but much remains to be done. Africans are now calling for a new partnership, and they have a roadmap to define it. It is my hope that the world will respond to this call.