The Global Fund’s Executive Director Peter Sands joined the first virtual FGFJ Diet Task Force meeting to discuss the current impact of COVID-19 on AIDS, TB, and malaria and the essential role of the Global Fund in the fight against the pandemic. He underscored the importance of testing as a measure to protect low-resource settings, saying “the only viable strategy is aggressively testing, tracing, and supporting people to be in isolation.” A total of 14 Diet members from across party lines attended, showing the strong interest in the fight ahead as well as Japan’s role.
Mr. Sands started his presentation by illustrating how COVID-19 quickly has had a “knock-on” impact on HIV, TB, and malaria, noting that South Africa, the country with the largest population living with HIV, has seen the number of HIV tests conducted drop by more than a quarter, even as TB testing has dropped by half—which is deeply concerning for a country with 300,000 TB cases a year. He stressed, “the indirect costs in terms of lives affected by COVID-19 may be greater than the direct costs.”
“As Africa has a much younger population than other continents, we may see a lower direct mortality rate from COVID-19, but because of the burden of HIV, TB, and malaria is so high, and the health systems are also so fragile, the knock-on impact could be significant.” That means that years of efforts and progress made on HIV, TB, and malaria could be lost through the course of the pandemic.
Mr. Sands explained that the Global Fund has quickly responded to the pandemic through its Grant Flexibility Program, and then setting up a new funding program, the COVID-19 Response Mechanism (C19RM). These have offered a total of $1 billion in flexible funding for the COVID response and to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on AIDS, TB, and malaria.
In the latter part of the session, Mr. Sands discussed the Global Fund’s role in the Access to COVID-19 Tools-Accelerator (ACT-A), a global collaboration to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to new COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines. The Global Fund is a central player in this new initiative, serving as co-convener of both its Diagnostics Partnership—which aims to expand COVID testing capacity in low-income countries—as well as its Health Systems Connector. He underscored the importance of testing, noting, “The critical element of the strategy is providing diagnostics, helping with community-based tracing and isolation, protecting health workers with PPE, and adapting AIDS, TB, and malaria programs [to mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19].” Although the Global Fund has already started delivering testing through its early-set funding mechanisms, the needs have continued to grow and there is a huge gap in terms of the resources required to fulfill the needs on the ground.
Mr. Sands noted that, so far just US$200–300 million in funding has been mobilized for the ACT-A Diagnostics Partnership, far short of the US$6 billion estimate of needs. “We will need more support to be able to help communities and countries to respond to COVID-19 and to prevent the pandemic from turning into a disaster for HIV, TB, and malaria. If we don’t help the poorest countries, we will all pay for it.”
While stressing the importance of raising critical funding for the Diagnostic Partnership to provide new technologies and tools, it was the essential role of community health workers that Mr. Sands highlighted at the end of his presentation. “Effective testing, tracing, and isolation programs are not just about technology; they require community mobilization, the way the community engages the medical side of the system. Communities and community workers are going to be the first line of defense.”
Japan has made its largest disbursement in history this year (US$476.4 million) to fulfill its sixth replenishment pledge and it has been the fifth largest contributor to the Global Fund to date. The co-chairs of the Diet Task Force, Hon. Ichiro Aisawa and Hon. Motohisa Furukawa, closed the meeting by expressing their commitment to support the new global initiatives such as ACT-A and the important ongoing role of the Global Fund.
The Japanese-language version of this report is also available on the FGFJ website.