This post is part of our coverage of the 2012 Annual Letter from Bill Gates. You can read Bill's letter here.
I was looking back recently at the news coverage from when the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria was established, in 2002. The World Economic Forum will mark the Fund’s 10-year anniversary at this year’s annual meeting in Davos. In the spring of 2002, while there was a great deal of support for creating a new fund to tackle these three deadly killers, there also was a good measure of caution – even skepticism – given the organization’s ambitious goals.
Just after Kofi Annan called for the creation of the Fund in 2001, the Economist editorialized its support but cautioned “it should not be devoured by a voracious UN bureaucracy.” The Wall Street Journal’s Mark Schoofs wrote that “the organizers of the Global Fund know they must hold themselves to the highest medical and financial standards or face the risk that the almost $2 billion pledged world-wide so far won’t be replenished, let alone increased.” In the same article, former U.S. Senator (and physician) Bill Frist agreed: “There’s a lot riding on this,” he said.
So it’s worth stepping back on this momentous occasion to reflect not just on what has been accomplished – there will be lots of people citing the Fund’s impressive statistics this week. What’s worth noting is also what didn’t come to pass.
Despite the warnings, the Fund has avoided becoming another bureaucratic institution with high overhead costs and procedures that stifle innovation. And they have put in place some of the most rigorous standards possible to ensure a high degree of accountability for all the resources it oversees.
Quite simply, the Global Fund has become the most effective and efficient comprehensive health mechanism ever created.
What the early architects might not have envisioned are other benefits that have accrued since the Fund was created. For example, the Fund has helped address the failure of markets a decade ago to enable people infected with AIDS in poor countries to obtain expensive antiretroviral drugs. With its war chest, the business of making AIDS drugs was transformed from what former U.S. President Clinton called a “low-volume, high-margin business to a low-margin, high-volume one.”
The Fund also was unique for its willingness to work directly with the private sector. One of the most successful such partnerships is Product(RED), an effort that has raised $180 million for the Fund through consumer purchases of popular, (RED)-branded products.
With this in mind, here are three birthday wishes I have for the Fund this year:
1) On May 31, 2002, France became the first European nation to announce a contribution to the Global Fund ($ 127 million). To mark the occasion, let’s encourage France, following its national elections, to increase its current level of funding, no matter who the victor is. And as a show of global solidarity, let’s make sure the rest of the G8 does the same when they meet in Chicago.
2) Also in May of 2002, the International Olympic Committee made a $100,000 contribution to the Fund to demonstrate its support. Using some of their lucrative sponsorship funding, why don’t they do this again ahead of the London games (though this time add two “0s” to the end)?
3) To symbolize the important role that the private sector has in fighting global pandemics like AIDS, TB, and malaria, let’s mark this year by getting 12 more companies to join (RED).