Sachs: As Global Fund replenishment comes to Washington, “The money is not in the bag”

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Dr. Jeffrey Sachs

Dr. Jeffrey Sachs

Dr. Jeffrey Sachs is shocked by how difficult it is to raise just $5 billion per year for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. And he shared why, today, at a meeting hosted by the Friends of the Global Fight.

It is a tiny amount in the grand scheme of things, said Sachs, special advisor to United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals, yet raising it is “strangely difficult in our bizarre world.”

And the first deadline is looming with the next Global Fund replenishment meeting coming up in five weeks December 2-3, to be held in Washington D.C.

Sachs said the Global Fund aims to raise $15 billion for life-saving interventions for the most poor from 2014 to 2016, which means countries need to pledge at a minimum $5 billion per year for the next three years – a paltry sum compared to the billions given in bonuses to Wall Street every year and spent on global wars he said.  “If we can’t get five billion, this is a shame, honestly,” he said.  “We spend five billion in half a month in Afghanistan.  Wall Street by itself should beg for forgiveness and give recompense for all the damage it’s done to the rest of the world.”

The Global Fund is the most successful institution in years to fight extreme poverty, Sachs said.  The Global Fund, in addition to saving millions of lives by providing treatment and prevention for the three biggest infectious disease killers, has helped countries to build up health systems that were nonexistent a decade ago, he said.  In 2002 when then UN General Secretary Kofi Annan announced the creation of the Global Fund, “voices of skepticism were pervasive,” he said.

“Very stupid things out of ignorance of this profession were said, and worse,” he added.

“We proved that public health works,” he said.  He recounted a recent visit to a hospital outside Accra, Ghana. “The first time I went in 2003, there were just mass deaths.  There were no medicines…It was a horror scene.”  Now, thanks to support from the Global Fund, the hospital is “incredibly, spanking clean” and well run by talented, young doctors.

A decade ago, he said, 1.5 million people died every year from malaria, and now that number has dropped to under 700,000 thanks to support from the Global Fund which provides more than half of global malaria funding. Ten million people are receiving HIV/AIDS treatment now, compared to zero in 2001, and the Global Fund is responsible for 20 percent of global HIV/AIDS funding (PEPFAR is responsible for more than half of that number).  The Global Fund is also the primary champion for fighting global tuberculosis, he noted, and provides the vast majority of global funding for the disease that claims over a million lives a year.

With just a month to go before the replenishment meeting, Sachs said “the money is not in the bag.” Even the U.S. commitment of $1.65 billion, which amounts to just $5 per American, is “more than a little ambiguous,” he said.  He added that other countries, such as China, Germany, and Canada among others, should step up to the plate, and that meeting the goal shouldn’t rest completely on the U.S., but the U.S. “at a minimum could unambiguously say they’re committed to one-third,” referring to the portion which by law the U.S. can contribute to the Global Fund.  “We could easily round up $15 billion if the U.S. stepped up.”

“This is completely bipartisan. It’s a national issue that absolutely cuts across all ideological boundaries,” he said. Leaving town without $15 billion is “unimaginable,” he said.

“We can’t walk away with something that will leave people dying, for such a small amount of money.”

Activists should put pressure on Wall Street foundations to contribute as well, he said. Citing that Wall Street executives alone receive Christmas bonuses between $20-30 billion every year, even as they take bail outs from the government, he said “they owe it big time to the world.”

“This is a small number for macroeconomists, but is life and death for millions of people,” he said.

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