Picture: 123RF/LEO LINTANG
Picture: 123RF/LEO LINTANG

The next hurdle that must be overcome to dramatically reduce the spread of HIV is gender inequality, said the head of a fund that expects to raise $14bn to tackle the world’s deadliest infectious diseases.

An increasing proportion of the money that’s available to fight HIV infections should be spent on prevention rather than treatment and testing, said Peter Sands, the executive director of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

About 1,000 young women, mostly in East and Southern Africa, are infected with the virus every day, he said.

“It’s sexual violence, education disadvantages and economic inequality” that make young women susceptible to contracting the disease, Sands said in an interview at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town.

The Global Fund, which gets donations from the world’s richest countries, funds programmes such as paying girls to stay in school. It’s also increased investment in strengthening healthcare systems.

Healthcare access

While the rate of infection worldwide has halved over the last decade, the number of young women affected is concerning, he said. There are also high incidences of infection in groups that face discrimination in accessing healthcare such as gay men, transgender individuals and refugees.

The Global Fund, which was created in 2002 at the initiative of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kofi Annan, wants to end HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis by 2030. About two-thirds of the country programmes it supports are in sub-Saharan Africa.

The fund typically raises and spends money in three-year cycles, and aims to raise $14bn at a so-called replenishment conference on October 10 that will be hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron. That’s 15% more than it raised in 2016 and it expects the private sector to contribute about $1bn, Sands said.

Health security

While the number of deaths from malaria are falling in some countries, more people are being affected, he said. Nigeria and  Democratic Republic of Congo are hit hardest by the disease.

Tuberculosis is the most neglected of the major infectious diseases and while progress is being made, it’s unlikely that the fund’s 2030 target will be achieved, Sands said. The multidrug-resistant, or MDR, strain of the disease has infected 600,000 people in rich and poor countries across the world, he said.

“We need to be concerned from a global health security point of view,” he said, adding that MDR tuberculosis has a similar fatality rate to Ebola and is a lot more infectious.