My dear friend, the late Paul O'Grady, was the first openly gay man to serve in the New South Wales (state) Parliament. In 1996, Paul publicly disclosed on national television that he was HIV positive and had developed AIDS. This was my first experience of someone I was close to living with HIV; our friendship made me acutely aware of the improved drug treatments progressively becoming available in Australia.
These treatments were giving people like Paul extra years of life that they were using to make phenomenal contributions to society. Paul lived for another 18 years, effecting important social and political change at every opportunity. I was challenged by the fact that we lived in a country wealthy enough to invest in developing and providing solutions to complex health problems like HIV, and this made me ask: why are these opportunities denied to others?
If your neighbour's house is burning down, you aren't safe either.
I'm now an Australian federal politician. I'm also an anthropologist by training, and endlessly interested in the question of what it means to be human. As a politician, I'm constantly challenged to demonstrate why being a good global citizen is also very much in Australia's national interest. A couple of years ago I saw a snapshot in time of passenger aircraft movements around the world, and something clicked for me: the reach, volume and speed of modern travel are unprecedented. People are now globally connected and astonishingly mobile. No one is left isolated anymore -- not even Australia despite being all the way "down under."
Mobility has been a feature of life in the Pacific since before colonization, the social and economic benefits of which have been huge and should be maintained: for Pacific Islanders, work and education opportunities in Australia and the ability to send remittances home remain important. For Australia, access to a seasonal workforce and new opportunities to help build the social and economic capacity of our region are fundamental. Importantly, there is significant regional cross-pollination of medical expertise amongst students and health professionals alike.
It's in everyone's interest to take a global and strongly humanitarian approach to eliminating HIV, TB and malaria; we need to think beyond the confines of nation-states in relation to diseases that have no respect for borders. But it is also in Australia's national interest to act: our neighbours in the Pacific can't afford to mobilize an effective response to eradicate these diseases on their own, so Australia must take a lead role on this in the region. If your neighbour's house is burning down, you aren't safe either. This is why I support a strong Australian replenishment to the Global Fund.
The example of polio demonstrates what's possible in global health with collective goodwill, concerted effort and deployment of the knowledge and skills we already have. In relation to HIV, TB and malaria what we need now is the political commitment that says "we can do this, we should do this -- and we're going to do this." The human costs of these three devastating illnesses are too high. A push to eliminate them would lift an enormous burden from the shoulders of people who are among the most marginal and vulnerable in the world.
We owe it to them to collectively ensure that we, too, are doing everything we can to get on top of HIV, TB and malaria.
We know that the impact of these diseases falls disproportionately on women. In 2014 I went to the Solomon Islands -- a small Melanesian nation in the eastern Pacific -- as an election observer. The country has a decreasing, though still high, burden of TB and one of the greatest burdens of malaria outside sub-Saharan Africa.
At that time, the Solomon Islands had not long emerged from a period of civil unrest and I met so many extraordinary women who were creating change at communal and village level, taking their own initiatives for safer, healthier communities: they wanted economic independence, and for their children to be healthy. They were primary carers for sick family members, which has a huge impact on economic productivity with flow-on effects for everyone. These women managed their caring responsibilities with sometimes-limited access to community health services; I also heard fears about the potential for drug-resistant strains of malaria to emerge. And all these health concerns were compounded by the Solomon Islands' high rates of family violence.
The greatest benefit of the Global Fund's assistance is in helping relieve these most immediate health issues so that people have the opportunity to create better living conditions for themselves, their families and their communities. These amazing women I met aspire to great change in their communities, they want to participate in public life -- a huge step forward in the Solomon Islands -- and take their seats at the top decision-making tables. Australia has close ties with the Pacific, and clear interests in ensuring that our region is healthy and stable. What greater legacy could we leave behind but to contribute to eliminating three disease menaces that kill and otherwise prevent people from being the very best they can be?
In the Solomon Islands, people are helping themselves. We owe it to them to collectively ensure that we, too, are doing everything we can to get on top of HIV, TB and malaria. If we don't, we will deny them, and millions of other people around the world, the chance to fulfil their potential. That goal has to be of interest to anyone with a belief in our shared humanity.
Sharon Claydon is the MP for Newcastle in the Australian Federal Parliament, representing the Australian Labor Party.
This blog is part of the blog series: AIDS, TB and Malaria: It's High Time for Us to End It. For Good by the Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development (ICAD) in recognition of The Global Fund's Fifth Replenishment. The blog series runs from August 29 to October 3, 2016 and features a selection of blogs written by our member and partner organizations. Contributors share their broad range of perspectives and insight on the work of The Global Fund and the opportunity that this moment presents us one year following the inauguration of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of CCIC or its members.
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