I felt honoured, perhaps slightly overwhelmed, to join the crowd of participants at the Global Fund Replenishment Conference in Montreal. I was in the company of some of Canada's best and brightest in the field of global health, rubbing shoulders with experts from around the world, listening to the succession of politicians, dignitaries, philanthropists and rock stars who shared the stage.
From the impressive line-up of speakers, there is somebody who stood out for me. Her name was Loyce Maturu, a 24-year old woman from Zimbabwe who was born HIV-positive. Her story moved me.
By the time Loyce was 10, both her mother and her younger brother had died of AIDS and tuberculosis. She didn't know she was suffering from the same diseases until she was diagnosed two years later, and her young and difficult life was once again turned upside down.
There has been great progress in the battle to eliminate HIV, tuberculosis and malaria as epidemics worldwide, but woman and girls have not felt this progress as much as others. Currently, more than 7,000 girls and young women ages 15 - 24 are infected with HIV every week. There are cultural, legal and structural factors in many countries that create gender inequalities and discrimination against women that disproportionately increases their risk.
I thought of Loyce, and her mother who had passed her HIV infection on to her babies, as I considered the commitment of the Global Fund, which promises to continue to focus heavily on women and girls, investing to improve women's health and "supporting country driven processes grounded in equity and inclusiveness."
While the Global Fund has been increasing funding directed towards women and girls (in 2015, approximately 55 to 60 per cent of the Global Fund's investment was allocated to programs focusing on women and girls), it is clear this proportion should continue to grow due to the disproportionate rate at which women are both infected by HIV and are at risk for other diseases.
Apart from its focus on women and girls, the Global Fund, in my opinion, is doing many other things right, including demonstrating a capacity to change and adapt to new evidence and evolving circumstances.
One of the best examples is switching to the health system strengthening approach. When it became evident that AIDS, TB and malaria prevention and care could not be provided in isolation from health systems, the Global Fund started to integrate services tackling these diseases into the existing system, strengthening the entire health system from the inside in the recipient countries.
I am convinced that a health systems strengthening approach will enhance equitable and sustainable access to essential services and programs in the communities and for the people most affected by these epidemics. It will renew the focus on securing health financing, increasing health and human resources, and improving the use of information for evidenced-based planning and decision-making.
By addressing the core functions or building blocks for a strengthened health system, Canada and our partners will truly make progress by integrating care, treatment, management, and prevention into existing primary health-care systems, and utilizing scarce resources in the most cost effective manner to end epidemics of AIDS, TB and Malaria by 2030.
Loyce's diagnosis changed her life for the better. She was put on antiretroviral drugs for HIV and cured of TB with medication paid for by the Global Fund. Today Loyce is a young active woman, an agent of change who inspires affected girls and woman around the world to face their diagnostic, to get on treatment, to fight for the life they want to have.
Her story is a very real and moving reminder of the human tragedy behind the statistics, of the many other women, children and men she represents who are battling AIDS, TB and malaria. But she also embodies hope. She is alive today as a testimony to the impact of the Global Fund in addressing these diseases -- the initiative has saved 22 million lives since its creation in 2002 -- and the urgency for a wide range of stakeholders to work together to eliminate them for good.
This blog was published on September 27, 2016 as part of the Huffington Post blog series: AIDS, TB and Malaria: It's High Time for Us to End It. For Good by the Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development (ICAD) in recognition of the Global Fund's Fifth Replenishment. See post here...