Commonwealth solidarity more important than ever in fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

Countries across our Commonwealth made pledges to the Global Fund – some for the very first time. But the UK is yet to join them

Commonwealth solidarity more important than ever in fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II walks past Commonwealth flags in St George's Hall at Windsor Castle, England to mark Commonwealth Day
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II walks past Commonwealth flags in St George’s Hall at Windsor Castle CREDIT: Steve Parsons/Pool via AP

The passing of Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II was a loss felt sharply across the Commonwealth. It was also a moment for people and nations to assert the shared values she embodied. These values, now represented in His Majesty King Charles III, still bind us.

We are a family of 56 nations and 2.5 billion people. In her final Commonwealth Day message, the Queen described us as combining “a wealth of history and tradition with the great social, cultural and technological advances of our time”.

Such advancements have brought greater security, prosperity and opportunity to every corner of the Commonwealth. In that transformation, the UK has played a leading role in leveraging its strengths on the international stage to ensure these reach every corner of our union of nations.

Clearest of all improvements has been the progress made against infectious diseases. The great killers that have been Aids, tuberculosis and malaria have been retreating thanks to the strong action taken over the past twenty years. Two decades ago, the UK became a co-founder of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria. 

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Since then, successive UK governments have invested judiciously in the Global Fund and seen its commitment rewarded with 50 million lives saved from Aids, TB and malaria.

Over half the Global Fund investments are in Commonwealth countries, including in three countries that bear the highest burden for HIV/Aids (South Africa); tuberculosis (India); and malaria (Nigeria). In Commonwealth nations where these diseases have historically run rampant, we have seen significant progress over the past twenty years, marked by innovation, scaling up, the development of health systems for all, and the gradual transition to more self-reliant programmes.

A true act of solidarity

For HIV and Aids programmes, progress in Commonwealth countries has been solid and visible. For example, in Tanzania, there were no HIV patients on antiretroviral therapy in 2002. In 2022, 86 per cent of people living with HIV are receiving antiretroviral therapy. 

South Africa went from 1 per cent to 74 per cent; and India from 0 per cent to 65 per cent. That so many lives have been spared in less than a generation is a testament to the hard work of the Global Fund and its partnership. It’s also a testament to the enduring commitment of the UK towards people living with HIV.

This commitment has allowed our shared values to shine. There is greater equality of opportunity when young women and girls are able to complete their education; there is greater freedom when members of the LGBTQ+ community can live freely and access health care without fear of persecution; and there is greater prosperity when all our people are
healthier and able to reach their full potential.

For every £1 spent towards defeating HIV, TB and malaria and reinforcing health systems against epidemics, £6 goes into a country’s economy. This is a return on investment few will turn their noses at.

We still have some way to go, and Covid-19 in particular has set us back two years: the figures for 2020 and 2021 are not those we would like to see. In the fight against HIV and malaria, we are only just seeing a return to pre-pandemic figures, and against TB, we are still below 2019 figures. Yet we can be proud of the progress we made and look forward to defeating those three scourges. 

That pride and commitment are reflected in the countries across our Commonwealth who themselves made pledges to the Global Fund for the very first time at the seventh replenishment, including Malawi, Ghana and Tanzania; a true act of
global solidarity.

These nations were joined by those outside of the Commonwealth who increased their pledges by a hefty 30 per cent – the US, Germany, Ireland and Japan. 

Now, with the UK yet to make a pledge to the Global Fund, it should use this opportunity to demonstrate its global leadership and its resolute commitment to the people of the Commonwealth. A healthy Commonwealth is a strong and prosperous Commonwealth.

Our Commonwealth of Nations has a shared future, but as we enter a new age under King Charles, we must continue to be proactive in building it. We must act to end inequalities and preventable deaths, because no one is safe until we are all safe.

  • Samia Suluhu Hassan is President of Tanzania and Lord Fowler, Former Chair of the Conservative Party and Former Lord Speaker

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