05/31/2013 11:46 am ET Updated Jul 31, 2013

The Push For A Healthier World

I recently arrived in Japan, a country that tops the list of the world's healthiest countries, to champion the cause of access to health at the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V). As I prepare to discuss health priorities with Japanese leaders and media, I think about the transformative power of international solidarity and Japan's distinctive place in the family of international donors.

Japan's solidarity has been exemplary. Its engagement in international development dates back to the 1950s when its Official Development Assistance (ODA) program was first established. Ever since, in good and bad times, Japan has stood side by side with the poor and disadvantaged people in the world, taking center stage in efforts to make our planet a safer place.

I distinctly recall the harrowing images I saw on television in the spring of 2011: an earthquake and a tsunami devastated northeast Japan, unleashing the largest nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Hundreds of thousands of victims fled their homes to escape radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant. Experts predicted billions of economic losses over the next decade.

But even in its darkest hour of need, Japan continued to honor its commitment to health for the world's poor. In 2012, Japan made its largest ever contribution to the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDs, tuberculosis and malaria, bringing its support to a total of USD 1.75 billion since 2002 and becoming the Fund's fifth largest donor.

I can only admire such generosity and thank the Japanese people for their investment in the future of Africa, which is my home. Over the weekend I visited the tsunami-hit area to offer my heart-felt condolences to communities who had suffered so much death and destruction. I saw amazing generosity, courage and unity of purpose. I thought of the tremendous progress that we, the global community, can achieve when more of us lend a hand to others' in their moment of hardship; when more of us recognize that, in our interconnected world, nations' problems are shared and their destinies - inextricably intertwined.

The global fight against infectious diseases provides a revealing sample. Thanks to international solidarity, as exemplified by continuous donor support for the Global Fund, we have turned a corner in the fight against HIV/AIDs, tuberculosis and malaria. Funding, channeled through the Global Fund to health programs in endemic countries between 2002 and 2011 have helped save 8.7 million lives. Africa has cut AIDS-related deaths by one third in the past six years. Countries where tuberculosis is endemic are well on track to achieve the global target of a 50% disease reduction by 2015. Malaria mortality is down by a quarter worldwide and one-third in Africa, compared to year 2000. These figures simply mean that in Africa and across the world millions of men, women and children are surviving and escaping the vicious circle of disease and poverty.

I am proud to have been part of the global movement that achieved these remarkable results. But I am also deeply concerned about preserving and multiplying them across Africa and the world. Without a big push over the next 900 days, many endemic countries, particularly in Africa, will fall short of reaching the health-related Millennium Development Goals. If funding flounders, today's progress could be easily reversed, putting millions of lives at risk, squandering the investment that the international community has made so far and robbing Africa of the hope for a healthier future.

Tomorrow African countries, international organizations, donor countries, the private sector and civil society will gather at the TICAD to take stock of Africa's progress, discuss the many challenges the continent faces and chart the way forward for 2015 and beyond.

Making lasting progress towards the MDGs and ensuring that disease control efforts continue after 2015 is our collective responsibility.

I urge Japan and other international donors to back the Global Fund's ask for $US 15 billion, so as to propel progress in countries over the next 3 years. I also urge African governments to step up their domestic funding for health and ensure that all three diseases get adequate resources. Finally, I encourage Japanese, African and international business leaders to invest in the health of employees and their communities.

Prioritizing Africa's health is not charity. It is an investment in healthier societies, healthier economies and a healthier world.