The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has helped save 27 million lives since it began in 2002. With adequate funding it will save another 16 million by 2022. Every one of them is a story, a family. Every one of them could be our neighbor, our family. Could be me, could be you.
One of them was charismatic Winstone Zulu from Zambia. Four of his brothers died of untreated tuberculosis, and Winstone took their children into his household. Then Winstone himself was diagnosed with tuberculosis and its companion killer, AIDS. He knew that a Global Fund program had effective drugs available in South Africa, and he went there to receive treatment. After regaining his health, he became an international advocate for testing and modern treatment, and against the stigma both tuberculosis and the human immunodeficiency virus carry.
As a member of RESULTS, a citizens advocacy movement for solutions to poverty, I met Winstone and others whose lives were saved by the Global Fund. I am always moved. They tell of being deathly sick with no money to buy the treatment they need. Next they tell of the miracle of hope: accessible life-saving drugs. And then the wonder of knowing that people “who will never meet me” worked to make those drugs available to them. Not simply a medical treatment, it is a moment of validation and human connection.
The Global Fund is a partnership among nations, international institutions and civil organizations working in three-year funding cycles. Rich countries like the U.S. contribute money and technical expertise. Nations affected by the diseases bring invaluable on-the-ground knowledge, human resources and increasingly large portions of their own budgets to the fight. Together they not only address current medical problems but also develop community health systems that stand ready to address new medical emergencies before they become overwhelming. They are our first line of defense.
We must keep pressing ahead to avoid losing ground against these three killer diseases. A funding conference in October will determine the scope of what can be accomplished. The fund proposal is a $14 billion plan to save another 16 million lives; the U.S. share would be about $1.56 billion per year.
Several countries are stepping up their contributions significantly. Other industrialized countries are contributing less or are waiting to see how much we will give. Some countries which previously received help have now become donors themselves. The U.S. remains a question mark, since our budget will not be finalized by then.
Unfortunately, our administration is proposing “reckless and irresponsible” cuts to “critical State Department and USAID programs that are essential to America’s security and economic interests,” according to Liz Schrayer of the U.S. Global Leadership Council. The Global Fund would be included in those cuts.
This is not the first time cuts have been proposed and then defeated, and Congress is again pushing back with bipartisan support of the Global Fund and other initiatives. The chairs and ranking members of the Foreign Affairs and Foreign Relations committees, plus appropriations leaders Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., are all urging the administration to maintain our leadership position. They are sponsoring resolutions in both houses of Congress that reaffirm our commitment to the work of the Global Fund.
Since Congress controls spending, a statement by members carries weight among other nations and reassures others that the U.S. intends to continue to lead. Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and U.S. Reps. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., and Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., should support the resolutions. The U.S. must maintain our position of leadership both in stopping pandemics and, equally important, touching the lives of people like Winstone.
Roxanne Allen has been a volunteer with RESULTS since 1986. A resident of Santa Fe for a short time, she now lives in Albuquerque.