Published in Huff Post September 2013
2013 sees the UK back in the Chair of the G8. What a great opportunity. Not only because of the great results last time, but importantly because experts tell us that a big push now can totally change the future course of AIDS, and also of TB and malaria.
Being a government lead policy adviser is a funny business. Work ranges from somewhat mundane to adrenalin filled moments. Occasionally you have the unique pleasure of seeing a global bureaucratic game transform into real change – change that saves lives.
I led the UK’s policy team on AIDS from 2003, a time that spanned the last UK G8 in 2005. Tony Blair declared that Africa would be at the centre of discussions during its joint Presidency of the G8 and the EU.
It was a bold choice.
The Gleneagles G8 was preceded by massive public debate and a heady swell of protests and marches. International development was a top priority for the 8 (formerly) most powerful nations in the world.
I worked for long sighted, passionate ministers – Hilary Benn and Gareth Thomas – who had already taken the issue of AIDS to heart. They were not afraid to speak out on the gory details of sex & drugs, and put real money behind the response. With the added bonus of a big push on AIDS by US President George Bush, AIDS climbed up the priorities of the G8, as a sub-theme of “Africa”.
Life as a policy lead had just become more interesting.
One of the things I learned as a bureaucrat is that it is not just what is said but who says it that matters. Our job was to guide and craft language. Whether top political leaders then say those words and commit their country to action is what counts.
The UK did, followed by the G8. It wasn’t straightforward – behind the scenes there was delicate back & forth, especially between the countries that would have to do most to deliver such a promise. My most vivid memory of negotiating with my US counterpart was a few days before the summit: I was reading bedtime Harry Potter stories to my twin sons and broke off many times to tweak the words of the communiqué. When the US & UK say they will do something they do it – they know that the activists will chase them if they don’t.
We always knew that once the G8 committed to this, it mattered that other countries did. We turned our minds to making sure all UN Member States would step forward. By September they had made a pledge, elaborated in 2006 as moving “towards the goal of Universal Access to comprehensive prevention programmes, treatment, care and support by 2010”.
It was a game changer. Kofi Annan credits the 2005 G8 sentence as getting 5.4 million people on ARVs. In 2006 I visited the South African Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and was astonished to see hundreds of activists gathered under a banner with the exact words I’d negotiated while reading Harry Potter. Those words became their plea to their government and donors, and helped force the political shift that turned the tide of denialism (the policy that led to the deaths of thousands of South Africans with HIV).
That Universal Access sentence loosened the pockets of donors, and persuaded countries with the biggest epidemics that they must act, and that they would be supported if they did. In 2005 just over 1 million people were on HIV treatment. Now it is over 8 million. Globally 54% of people with HIV in need of treatment access it, and 10 countries provide treatment to 80% of their citizens (Universal Access according to WHO).
Did we achieve universal access by 2010? Clearly not. But those agreements put the world on the right trajectory. A comprehensive response to AIDS is now within sight. It is beyond doubt that countries can make the changes necessary to treat their citizens with HIV and at risk of infection with the same dignity and respect as others. I am proud that the G8 played its part in that.
2013 sees the UK back in the Chair of the G8. What a great opportunity. Not only because of the great results last time, but importantly because experts tell us that a big push now can totally change the future course of AIDS, and also of TB and malaria. The drugs exist, the building blocks of the health systems are in place, the demand for services has grown. We understand what programmes are needed and how to resource them. But there is one thing missing: enough money.
This week sees two key events: the Global Fund launched its replenishment cycle on Monday and the G8 Foreign Ministers meet to prepare for the upcoming summit. US $15billion is needed to transform the world’s response to AIDS, TB and malaria. This would raise the numbers on HIV treatment from 8 million to 18 million by 2016; put 17 million people on TB drugs, saving 6 million lives over the next 3 years; and protect millions from malaria, saving an extra 200,000 lives a year.
We know that the Global Fund can support its country partners to deliver these results. The man I was busy negotiating with 8 years ago, Mark Dybul, is now the man running the Global Fund, having previously overseen the most successful roll out of AIDS services ever as head of the US PEPFAR programme.
Now the challenge is for William Hague and his G8 colleagues to have the vision and commitment to get behind the Global Fund, put Global Health back on the G8 agenda and raise the $15 billion needed to turn the curve of these three diseases.
That way we can move towards the vision of the 2005 G8: “an AIDS-free generation.”