The Parliamentary Friends of HIV/AIDS, Blood Borne Viruses and Sexually Transmitted Diseases and the Australian Parliamentary Group on Population and Development partnered to host Mark Dybul, Executive Director of the Global Fund in Canberra.
The Global Fund is a partnership between governments, civil society and the private sector to drive down the infection rates of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The Fund raises and invests nearly US$4 billion a year to run programs in more than 140 countries.
Mr Dybul told the group that the Fund provides an excellent return on investments – for every $1 Australia contributes to the funds, $15 is returned in our region. He spoke of this unique moment in our history where we have the ability to end these epidemics. The last 15 years has seen some extraordinary commitment, programs, and advances in science, that have driven down infection rates and expanded access to treatment, saving millions of lives and improving the health and well-being of millions more. As Mr Dybul said, this generation of policy makers is the first to have the necessary tools to eliminate these diseases.
Halting the spread of HIV and TB requires more than medicines however - many groups of people most vulnerable to these diseases are also targeted by discriminatory policies. We need more inclusive approaches, Mr Dybul said, to help sex workers, drug users and men who have sex with men to access the treatment and services they need, and not be stigmatised, discriminated against or punished.
Working to tackle gender based violence and gender inequality are as effective as any medical intervention, he added. For example, keeping girls in schools can reduce the rate of HIV infection by as much as 33%.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, young women and girls are up to five times more likely to be HIV positive than young men. This is often driven by gender based violence, early or forced marriage, often to older men with sexual experience, or transactional sex, sometimes incentivised by family members needing further income.
Promoting girls’ education has the additional effect of changing cultural norms about what girls can contribute to their families and societies. In addition, lessons about respectful relationships and life skills, taught for the last decade to primary school aged children, are seeing cultural shifts among today’s adolescents.
The Global Fund has worked in innovative partnerships with governments, the private sector and philanthropists to improve government and health sector responses to the diseases. Most Asia-Pacific nations are now middle income countries, and India has the most TB cases in the world. There is a need to focus on service delivery in the low income countries and improving government response in middle income countries. The Global Fund’s results focused approaches to partnerships with governments ensures funding is made available as outcomes are achieved.