FGFJ’s 32nd Diet Task Force meeting featured Peter Sands, the executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund), as a guest speaker. He spoke to more than 30 Diet Task Force members, outlining how the Global Fund’s investments in health and community systems, laboratories, and supply chains laid critical foundations that have facilitated countries’ responses to COVID-19. He also explained the Global Fund’s role within the Access to COVID-19 Tools-Accelerator’s (ACT-Accelerator) and the urgent need for increased support of the ACT-Accelerator’s diagnostics and therapeutics pillars to protect healthcare workers and respond to the lack of vital resources and supplies.
Rep. Ichiro Aisawa, the FGFJ Diet Task Force co-chair, opened the meeting by stressing the importance of testing as well as vaccines in low- and middle-income countries. He shared the need to be prepared for future pandemics, recommending more discussions on what must be done now to ensure a brighter future. A substantial amount of funding is still required not only to prevent the direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19 on the fight against the three major infectious diseases, but to utilize the experience of the Global Fund in deterring the spread of future pandemics.
Following Rep. Aisawa’s remarks, Peter Sands offered the latest information on the current spread of COVID-19 in African countries, noting that although the start of vaccinations in many countries appears to be the way out of this “COVID-19 tunnel,” in the world’s poorest countries and regions, the tunnel is still long, dark, and far from over. He proceeded to update the participants on the Global Fund’s rapid COVID-19 response, having approved approximately US$980 million (approximately ¥108 billion) in funding for 106 countries and 14 broad-based programs to date. Sands further broke down the funding allocation for the Global Fund’s COVID-19 Response Mechanism (C19RM), noting that 36 percent is being used for the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE; masks, goggles, etc.), 24 percent for diagnostics and testing, and the remaining 40 percent for the supply of vital medicines and support to vulnerable communities.
Sands stressed that it is far too late to build health systems from scratch when faced with a crisis and that strengthening existing health systems is a key element in fighting a crisis while maintaining current health services. One example of this structure can be found in Uganda. With support from the Global Fund, Uganda was able to strengthen their health system and community response capacity through the years of combating HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Because of these efforts, the Ugandan health system has been able to effectively combat and control COVID-19 transmission, cases, and deaths.
As one of the founding members of the ACT-Accelerator, the Global Fund is continuing to utilize these existing processes and systems as it leads the diagnostics pillar and supports both the therapeutics and health system strengthening pillars. Sands highlighted that while vaccines are important for reducing the spread of COVID-19, the reality is that it will take a long time for vaccines to reach most low- and middle-income countries. In order to stop the transmission of COVID-19, parallel testing and isolation, as well as mass distribution of PPE to healthcare workers are still critical. Additional funding is still needed for the ACT-Accelerator and as part of that fundraising effort, Sands announced the Global Fund’s overall target is to raise US$10 billion for diagnostics, therapeutics, health system strengthening, and reinforcing programs to combat the three major infectious diseases.
The meeting concluded with comments from the Diet Task Force members, including Hon. Keizo Takemi, who is the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and joined the meeting as a special commentator. Takemi noted the similarity between the Global Fund’s work in health system strengthening and Japan’s strong interest in promoting universal health coverage. Amb. Keiichi Hara, who was recently appointed to the Global Fund Board, also participated in the meeting and asked about the Global Fund’s role in the global health architecture, while commending the work that has already been done. FGFJ Diet Task Force co-chair, Rep. Motohisa Furukawa and Dr. Seiya Kato also expressed their concerns over the lack of vaccine distribution in Africa and the knock-on impact of COVID-19 on the three major diseases.
The most important aspect to fighting a pandemic is doing so quickly and in global solidarity. It is important that the G7 and G20 countries take the lead in accelerating the pace of the fight against major infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and COVID-19.
The FGFJ Diet Task Force is a multi-party initiative that brings together Diet members to examine ways to broaden Japan’s international role in combating the global threats of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other communicable diseases. The task force convenes several times a year with experts and leaders from around the world. For more information, visit the FGFJ Diet Task Force page.