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Why we should invest in global health security

by Marijke Wijnroks | The Global Fund
Thursday, 14 September 2017 10:49 GMT

A health worker checks the temperature of a girl at the entrance to a Red Cross facility in the town of Koidu, Kono district in Eastern Sierra Leone December 19, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

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

Together, we can protect humanity’s great medical achievements

Investing in global health is a highly cost effective way to achieve greater security and stability, to protect communities worldwide from infectious disease and to halt emerging health threats.

The Global Fund Results Report 2017, released today, highlights the great achievements that have been made by the Global Fund partnership, supporting programs that have saved more than 22 million lives, while building healthier communities and stronger economies. We have bent the trend lines of tuberculosis and malaria – two of humanity’s ancient foes – and we have prevented AIDS from reaching its catastrophic potential.

Yet this report also demonstrates how much more we have to do. It is becoming starkly evident that young people, in particular adolescent girls and young women, face extraordinary levels of risk. In parts of Africa, young women aged 15-24 years are eight times more likely than their male peers to be living with HIV. The Global Fund supports work that breaks down gender inequalities that drive the spread of disease, and we invest in programs specifically focused on improving the health of adolescent girls and young women.

The field of global health is always in flux – change is our constant. We discover and deploy breakthrough treatments, do battle with emerging threats, and adapt to the policies and politics of a world that knows no borders. New trends are always emerging. A demographic surge of young people, together with evidence that many young people are not accessing health services, is alarming and requires strong action.

We must face these challenges with courage. By accelerating investment in integrated HIV prevention and treatment programs for adolescent girls and young women, we can do more than halt the epidemic. We can turn the danger into a demographic dividend on Africa’s post-Millennial boom – readying the youth of today and leaders of tomorrow to build healthier, more prosperous societies.

This is the trajectory we envision as part of the Sustainable Development Goals: tackling epidemics and building robust systems for health fuels economic development, and in turn allows for greater investment in health, and moves us toward achieving universal health coverage. We cannot fail in this endeavor because, as we see clearly, tomorrow’s leaders will face myriad threats to global health security.

Robust systems for health are the sentinels that guard against regional or global outbreaks. We saw this in practice during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa: countries with strong systems like Nigeria, Senegal and Mali quickly contained the outbreak, while those without – such as Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea – were more vulnerable.

Resilient and sustainable systems for health are also our defense against the growing menace of antimicrobial resistance, including drug-resistant malaria and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.

This is not a vague, future threat. It is urgent that we respond globally, and avoid slipping back to conditions we endured in the era before antibiotics. We all have a role to play – from health ministers to activists, academics and private sector R&D teams, physicians and individual patients. Together, we can protect humanity’s great medical achievements.

This spirit of partnership, with each person and each sector of society making a contribution to global health, is in the Global Fund’s DNA. We see it everywhere. We see it in commitments by implementing countries to increase their own investments in health, we see it in innovative approaches developed by communities and civil society partners to reach those most vulnerable and we see it in new financing arrangements from the private sector. We see it in our colleagues at the Global Fund who constantly challenge themselves to be more effective and achieve greater impact from our investments.

I know we can succeed by being true to our values and our mission. The Global Fund partnership will use evidence and experience in the face of change to innovate and evolve. We will not look for quick wins over sustainable impact. We will support efforts to eliminate barriers to diagnosis and treatment. To reach the unreached and marginalized. To prevent new infections. To deliver value for money. To end epidemics.

Marijke Wijnroks is interim Executive Director of The Global Fund.