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Leaders step up struggle to defeat three deadly diseases

Tuesday, 17 September 2013 12:52 GMT

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf makes a point during an onstage newsmakers interview with Reuters journalist Axel Threlfall in Washington, May 17, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Global Fund seeks cash to intensify the struggle to defeat AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, Liberia and Sweden promise to do all they can - and say women must have a stronger role in society

Liberia and Sweden might seem to be worlds apart. But in today’s interconnected world, the challenge of defeating poverty, gender inequality and infectious diseases is truly part of a single universal aspiration. And this is where our two nations - one in Europe, one in Africa – meet as members of the same family with the common goal of improving people’s health.

As a continent, Africa has come a long way from the devastating times when children frequently died of malaria - a preventable disease transmitted by a mosquito bite that kills 600,000 people a year and costs it US$12 billion per year. Liberia is within reach of building a health sector where no child dies of malaria and every mother living with HIV can give birth to HIV-negative children while living a healthy life herself.

Such strides would have been impossible without the support of partners such as Sweden. Sweden has contributed more than US$ 700 million since the inception of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, making Sweden its tenth-largest financer. Sweden is also a major contributor to UNICEF, the UNFPA and GAVI, focusing on women and children.

To reach the tipping point of defeating these infectious diseases, we must continue to work together, and we must do so in a smarter and more equitable way. As we look ahead at the challenges before us, we strongly believe in the importance of strengthening the role of women in society.

Even before one of us became the first democratically elected female leader of an African nation, we had witnessed the transformative effect women have in helping to raise healthy families in our communities. As Minister for International Development Cooperation for Sweden, the other has devoted a career to fighting inequality and improving the lives of women and girls.

Women can be agents of change in development and in global health. If we do more for women and girls we can achieve better results. As the world’s leading financial institution in the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, the Global Fund understands the importance of focusing its efforts on the most vulnerable people. That means better prevention, treatment and care for women and girls to avoid the spread of these diseases.

To keep up the momentum, the Global Fund has set a target of raising US$15 billion at a pledging conference later this year so that it can effectively support countries in fighting these three infectious diseases in the 2014-2016 period. While African countries are still appealing for international support, we also recognize the paramount need to increase our own investments in our national health programs.

Increased domestic spending on health is essential in building country ownership and for the long-term sustainability of programs and health systems. It also demonstrates accountability and sends a strong message to partners such as Sweden that implementing countries are playing their part in global endeavors. Sweden will continue to do its share to combat world poverty. Investing in development and in global health in a transparent and accountable manner is part of Sweden’s openness, solidarity and democracy.

We stand on the threshold of a key historic moment. If we intensify our efforts we can turn these three pandemics into low-level epidemics, essentially controlling them and removing them as threats to public health. Defeating these pandemics may be an ambitious goal, but by working together we can achieve great things.