Health

Theresa May urges other countries to step forward as she unveils £1.4bn in fight against killer diseases

UK Prime minister Theresa May has urged international leaders at the G20 summit in Japan to follow the UK’s lead and commit to fighting the world’s three biggest infectious disease killers, as she unveiled a £1.4 billion funding pledge.

In one of her final acts as prime minister Mrs May announced the UK would give £467 million a year over the next three years to the Global Fund to Fight Fight AidsTuberculosis and Malaria.

In October this year the Global Fund will host its three-yearly “replenishment” conference when it will seek contributions covering the period 2020 to 2023. It is looking for $14bn – a 15 per cent increase on its last fundraising round in 2016 when it raised just over $12bn. 

The fund says the billions of dollars it hopes to raise will help save 16 million lives, cut the mortality rate from HIV, TB and malaria in half and build stronger health systems.

Mrs May said “urgent international action and a truly collective response” was needed to tackle the three diseases. 

“Today I am calling on G20 countries to follow the UK’s lead in supporting the vital work of the Global Fund and its relentless efforts to tackle Aids, malaria and tuberculosis around the world.

“Not only do these diseases cause untold suffering to those who fall ill, they hold back whole countries’ development. 

“I am deeply proud of the leading role the UK plays in international development and the life-saving impact of our aid spending.

“The pledge we are making today will save millions of lives and help to build a healthier and more prosperous world – and that is firmly in our national interest,” she said.

Speaking to the Telegraph, international development secretary Rory Stewart said he hoped making the pledge at the G20 would galvanise the international community. 

“We’re bringing [the announcement] forward in order to make sure we encourage other donors to step forward. And we’re using the opportunity of the G20, which brings the largest donors in the world together, to put down a marker.

“This is something we have been discussing for many, many months and it is critical we go into the replenishment with Britain taking the lead,” he said.

Mr Stewart said that fighting the three diseases was a moral issue. 

“These diseases kill an enormous number of people and it’s impossible to exaggerate how horrifying they are. A child is still dying from malaria every two minutes and every day about a thousand adolescent girls in Africa are getting HIV. We’re talking about diseases that kill about 2.5 million people every year,” he said.

He added: “This investment will prevent the spread of these diseases, particularly TB and HIV. Getting on top of the epidemics is also about making sure we treat people and reduce the chance of transmission.” 

Since the Global Fund was established in 2002, the UK has been the third biggest donor overall and in the last funding round it made the second biggest contribution after the United States, which traditionally provides around a third of the total budget. 

The Global Fund claims to have saved 27 million lives since it was established – although these figures have been questioned by researchers – but experts warn that the fight against the three diseases has slowed down in recent years. This is due to shortfalls in funding as well as increasing insecticide and drug resistance.

Campaigners were counting on the UK making a generous and early pledge as a signal to other countries to follow suit.

James Whiting, chief executive of Malaria No More UK, said the announcement would send out a strong message to both donor countries and those where the diseases are endemic.

“The malaria-endemic countries themselves are putting in substantial amounts of their budget to health and malaria and they will be inspired by the UK’s pledge. The Global Fund stipulates that 15 per cent of its funding must be matched by endemic country funding. This co-financing is important because it shows solidarity. This sends a strong message,” he said. 

Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest private donor to the fund, giving $600m in the last replenishment, said: “Today’s commitment by the people of the UK via the Global Fund is a positive step forward in the global fight against these diseases, and will help to save millions of lives.”

Musician and campaigner through his Aids foundation Sir Elton John said: 

“Last week in Paris President Macron and I called on the world to support replenishment of the Global Fund for Aids, TB and Malaria.  It is with profound respect that I thank the UK government for today’s historic pledge to help do just that.”

Romilly Greenhill, UK director of the One Campaign, said the money would play a key role in the fight against the three diseases.

She added: “Investing in the Global Fund is in everyone’s interest. It not only helps protect people at risk from these three diseases, but is also good for UK taxpayers who benefit from living in a healthier, fairer and safer world.”

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