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Fighting The World's Deadliest Diseases Requires More Than Just Money

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Prisca Mongouane, pictured lower right, is HIV positive and suffers from abdominal tuberculosis. She is a divorced mother of five children and lives in a camp for displaced people in Bangui, Central African Republic.

Visionary leadership, determination and global commitment have brought renewed momentum to the international fight against AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria, and some enormous achievements have been won: Millions of people once destined to die early deaths now lead meaningful and productive lives, relieved of the pain and agony they once experienced daily.

But the fight is far from over. Not only did more than one million people die from HIV/AIDS last year, but of the 36 million people infected with the virus, less than half had access to anti-retroviral treatment, the best and only real hope they have for a future.

Access to low-cost generic drugs must be improved.

Nearly 10 million people become infected with TB each year, and 1.5 million people die from it. And malaria, of which there are more than 200 million cases each year, continues to be a devastatingly effective killer, especially of children under the age of five -- 300,000 of whom died last year, representing close to 70 per cent of malaria deaths.

Political courage required

These grim numbers are a stark reminder that much work remains to be done. The progress already made against HIV, TB and malaria has shown that it is possible to overcome these health crises, and the UN's Sustainable Development Goals have set out the goal of ending all three diseases by 2030. But reaching that objective will require political will from the international leaders who will ultimately determine whether this fight is one we are committed to winning.

In a world where economic interests often contradict health needs, it will take much more than funding commitments to get ahead of these diseases. It will also require the political courage to dismantle the obstacles -- trade barriers, restricted research and lack of access to healthcare in neglected areas -- that remain in the way.

Dollars are desperately needed to fight AIDS, TB and malaria, but they will not stretch very far if the international trade barriers that currently restrict access to essential medicines continue to prevent low-income people and countries from getting the treatments they need. Access to low-cost generic drugs must be improved. Second-line treatment for people with HIV/AIDS, for example, are already priced far out of reach of many patients in poor countries.

Improving access to lifesaving medicines will also require a new approach to medical research and development. Open-source discovery mechanisms that can launch new treatments for the benefit of public health, as well as increased cooperation on combination therapies, are essential if we are to make any kind of rapid headway against deadly diseases in low-income countries.

And no amount of funding, affordable medicines or medical advances will help turn the tide against killer diseases if we cannot ensure the delivery of health care in conflict zones and failed states. Millions of people remain cut off from even the most basic health care, as warring parties fail to protect hospitals and patients from military attacks and medical agencies struggle to access people isolated by conflict and violence.

In such environments, diseases can flourish -- not just AIDS, TB and malaria, but even those we once thought defeated: in Syria, in only a few short years, vaccine interruption caused by war has led to a resurgence of the once-eradicated polio virus.

An opportunity to rise to the occasion

If we are to make good on the progress we have already made, and want to stand any chance of saving more lives from the world's deadliest diseases, then the leadership, determination and commitment previously seen in the fight against AIDS, TB and malaria will have to be renewed and reinvigorated.

We must extend hope to the millions still suffering and dying from AIDS, TB and malaria.

Fortunately, this September offers leaders a chance to rise to the occasion, and to show that citizens of wealthy countries are not content to allow health crises to continue unabated simply because they mostly kill people in poorer places. Canada, moreover, has a unique opportunity to lead the way.

This weekend, representatives from around the world are gathering in Montreal to consider the next three years of funding for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (now known simply as the Global Fund), which is the primary mechanism through which international efforts against the spread of HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria are made possible.

Canada, as the host nation, has already signalled a welcome commitment to renewed funding. It also has a chance to lead by example, and to remind those working towards the UN's 2030 goals that a replenished Global Fund will be even more effective when the international community agrees to reduce trade barriers, increase access to lifesaving medicine and research, and ensure that patients everywhere can receive the treatment they need.

We must extend hope to the millions still suffering and dying from AIDS, TB and malaria. We have the power to do so. All we need is courage from global leaders to remove the obstacles standing in our way.

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