Why Global Health Needs Japanese Leadership
Compounding crises are hitting global health. Japan’s G7 presidency can help tackle them.
By Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Why are the upcoming G7 meetings in Japan a critical moment for global health?
Working together, the world has saved millions of lives by fighting major infectious diseases. But COVID-19, as well as climate change, conflicts and other crises are threatening the progress achieved over the past 20 years. I am confident that Japan’s G7 presidency this year will intensify the world’s focus on the fight against deadly diseases such as HIV, TB and malaria as well as on the building of resilient and sustainable systems for health. That is one of the surest ways to achieve the goal of truly universal health coverage (UHC), while simultaneously preparing for future pandemics.
How do you think the world responded to COVID-19?
When COVID-19 struck, health systems in many countries were overwhelmed and the poorest and the most vulnerable were disproportionately affected. At the global level, many rich countries hoarded the vital health products needed to save lives while poor countries did without. Yet the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (of which the Global Fund is a founding member) demonstrated the power of collaborative leadership by delivering vital support to low- and middle-income countries to help them respond to the pandemic and protect the gains achieved in the fight against older diseases.
We must build on those collaborative efforts to find solutions to our common problems. We have learned that no one is safe unless everyone is. With Japan at the helm of the G7 and India leading the G20, we have a great opportunity to put the “U” into “UHC,” by ensuring everyone, especially the most vulnerable, has access to healthcare.
The G7 has been a big supporter of the Global Fund over the last 20 years. Are rich countries doing enough to end HIV, TB and malaria?
We are extremely grateful for the longstanding generosity of G7 nations in supporting the fight against these diseases. In the Seventh Replenishment (our most recent fundraising effort) we raised US$15.7 billion. To achieve that unprecedented sum, several G7 countries, including Japan, increased their commitments by 30% versus their Sixth Replenishment pledges.
To end HIV, TB and malaria as global public health threats, we must sustain these efforts. But we must also do more. Turbocharging the fight against the three diseases would unlock the dual benefits of saving millions more lives while simultaneously building more resilient, equitable and sustainable health systems that leave no one behind.
Strengthening health systems by aggressively fighting infectious diseases isn’t a new idea. Japan’s intensive efforts to combat TB after the second world war not only achieved dramatic reductions in TB infections and deaths, but also catalyzed UHC. We should learn from Japan’s success and seize this double opportunity again.
What are the biggest challenges facing global health today?
We are experiencing something of a perfect storm. COVID-19 has knocked us backwards on many diseases, and continued underinvestment in pandemic preparedness puts us all at risk. Climate change is sparking new health crises globally. Conflict is erupting in many parts of the world – and history tells us that most conflicts kill more people through disease than they do by bullets and bombs. Anti-microbial resistance is eroding the efficacy of key life-saving tools.
This cascade of crises is creating acute competition for resources and political attention. It is also exposing the fragility of the advances we have made in health, development and human security.
We can sustain – and even accelerate – progress if we work together to tackle the most acute health challenges and build stronger and more resilient health systems. But it is vital that as we do so we confront the deep and pervasive health inequities between and within countries. The power of UHC lies in the “U”, that it is universal and that we leave no one behind.
Peters Sands is the Executive Director of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The Global Fund is a worldwide movement to defeat HIV, TB and malaria and ensure a healthier, safer, more equitable future for all.