Saving the world, one coffee at a time

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by Mark Dybul & Tim Costello

Would you sacrifice the cost of one cup of coffee a year to help save 17 million lives from epidemics in countries with the highest burden of disease? If you are a taxpayer in Australia you already have.

By supporting the Global Fund partnership for less than $3 per person a year Australia has been pivotal in changing AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria from emergencies to diseases that can be conquered within a generation.

The effect on Australia’s neighbourhood has been profound. Almost half of the lives saved by the partnership — 8.3 million — have been in the Indo-Pacific region. As the disease burden lifts in countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, Australia’s national interest is well served. The region becomes more prosperous and stable.

Take the case of Myat Thu Sin, a 15-year-old girl in a small village in southern Myanmar. A month ago she visited a community health clinic suffering shivers, fever and chills. Just 10 years ago the clinic did not exist.

Local nurses or volunteers would have relied on guesswork to diagnose her, and lacked the medicines to treat her. She might have languished for weeks. She would have certainly missed school, or worse.

However, with support from Australia and through organisations such as World Vision, the Global Fund has invested the world’s money to distribute 142 million mosquito nets, 8.2 million tuberculosis treatments and help 3.2 million people access anti-retroviral HIV medicine in the Indo-Pacific.

Thanks to the investment of the partnership, Myat’s story ended differently. A rapid test diagnosed her with malaria and she was immediately treated with quality assured medicines. When Global Fund and World Vision staff met her recently she told us how she missed only one day of school.

This is the tangible impact of Australian support — a girl such as Myat who can go to school, a factory worker in Indonesia who can provide for their family without fear of tuberculosis or the women in Papua New Guinea benefiting from a drop in gender-based violence and HIV infection.

Australia, and the world, is right to recognise the huge impact we have made against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. These three diseases flourish in the shadows of stigma and poverty and we have done much to fight them. However, we are only halfway through this mission.

If investment stalls or commitment fades, hard-won gains could be reversed.

The next 15 years require a more interconnected approach. Simply distributing mosquito nets and medicines will not end the epidemics. We need to keep improving affordability and access to medicine and healthcare for those with less education and wealth.

Technology and innovation are vital as we search for better treatments and improve distribution.

Australia’s support is essential to this task. As we recognise the impact we have made together, we should also recommit to finishing this mission.

Mark Dybul is executive director of the Global Fund and is visiting Australia this week. Tim Costello is the CEO of World Vision Australia.

Source: The Daily Telegraph

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