GHLS Blog Series: Friends of the Global Fight

November 15, 2022

The Global Health Landscape Symposium is just a few weeks away! This year’s convening will focus on generating progress and seizing on the potential of global health that we witnessed throughout the COVID-19 crisis. We wanted to get a jump start on the conversation by talking to the organizations that will be joining us on December 7 and 8. Today, we are speaking with Chris Collins, President and CEO of Friends of the Global Fight.

The last in-person Global Landscape Symposium took place in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. What are the biggest challenges you and your organization have encountered in the three years since then?

Progress in fighting HIV, tuberculosis (TB), and malaria is at risk. COVID-19 had a very negative impact on the global fight against the three diseases, threatening to reverse twenty years of progress.

The U.S. Congress and Administration stepped forward with significant investments to enable the Global Fund, Gavi, and others to help countries respond to the new pandemic and protect AIDS, TB, and malaria programming. With U.S. support, the Global Fund acted quickly to prevent the worst-case scenario in low and middle-income countries, channeling nearly $4.4 billion through its COVID-19 response mechanism to protect hard-won gains in the fight against the three diseases.

However, new challenges have arisen just as health systems are beginning to bounce back from the shocks of the pandemic. The budgets of donor and implementing governments are under competing pressures brought on by COVID, inflation, and other impacts. Some major donors have yet to pledge to the Global Fund, threatening to leave money from the U.S. contribution on the table. With almost three years since the pandemic began — and trillions of dollars in damage later — it continues to be challenging to maintain the commitment of some decision-makers on global health.

What are the most positive, encouraging developments that have emerged from this time period?

This year has been defined by global crises –– the war in Ukraine, growing food scarcity, and rising energy prices. Despite these challenges, we saw the world come together to raise $14.25 billion for the Global Fund at this year’s replenishment. A majority of G7 countries — including the U.S., Canada, Germany, and Japan — increased their pledges by around 30% in the fight against the world’s deadliest diseases. On top of these pledges, 18 African countries, the most ever, contributed to the Global Fund’s replenishment, signaling a growing desire for implementing countries to play a greater role in the financing of their health infrastructure.

Donors from Capetown to Tokyo recognize that investments in disease-specific programs like HIV, TB, and malaria are building the infrastructure to fight new pandemics. We saw with COVID-19 that healthcare workers, community systems, laboratories, and surveillance capacity that had been focused on other areas of health adapted rapidly to respond to a new pandemic. Pandemic preparedness is not about purchasing tools and having them sit on the shelf. Investments in the Global Fund are helping build sustainable health systems that will help people access needed health services today while making them better prepared for tomorrow.  Let’s build on what works.

The title of this year’s Symposium is “Meeting the Moment.” How do you think the global health community can best meet this unique moment in time?

Meeting the moment means recognizing that we are living in an era of pandemics and that global solidarity is essential. It is our job as advocates to identify what we did not get right with COVID-19. We need to rethink how to make pandemic preparedness work for people, and how to mobilize policymakers globally around adequate investment in fighting the pandemics of today and tomorrow.

One aspect of making pandemic preparedness work means establishing community trust, including in health systems and public health guidance. There is no better way to build community trust than to deliver on health needs today, including through community systems and community engagement.

History tells us that, without action in times of crisis, the sense of urgency will be lost. Meeting the moment means we cannot let the crisis brought on by COVID-19 go to waste.

This year is Global Health Council’s 50th anniversary. In your view, what has been the organization’s impact over the years? What would you like to see it do/achieve in the coming years?

Over the past 50 years, Global Health Council has led the global health community with innovative and broad-minded thought leadership. For example, GHC pioneered dialogues around decolonizing global health and refocusing on health systems. Translating conversations and issue briefs into action, GHC’s commitment to equitable decision-making has rippled throughout the global health community. Today, GHC is leading in pandemic preparedness and so many other areas.

GHC has an essential role in advocacy for investment, and it is doing an excellent job. In addition, the organization can help all of us grapple with the complex issues in global health financing, understanding how to harness funding through appropriations as well as other sources. 

Is there anything else you’d like us to know?

Global Health Council is indispensable. Thank you for your continued leadership.

Be sure to attend Friends’ Global Health Landscape Symposium panel, “How can pandemic preparedness advance global health equity and health systems? Seizing the opportunity” on Wednesday, December 7 at 3:30 PM.