Women and Girls are Key to Ending the AIDS, TB and Malaria Epidemics

Women and Girls are Key to Ending the AIDS, TB and Malaria Epidemics
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Last weekend, I joined world leaders gathered in Canada as governments and the private sector came together to pledge more than $12.9 billion to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis (TB) and Malaria. As the largest ever replenishment of the Global Fund, this was an incredible milestone for global health and testament to how far we've come in the fight against three of the world's deadliest diseases. Fifteen years ago, AIDS, TB and malaria seemed unstoppable, killing nearly six million people every year. Today, due to increased investments in a coordinated response to these diseases, deaths from AIDS, TB and malaria have declined significantly, prompting optimism that we can end these epidemics in our lifetimes.

But we cannot achieve this goal without reducing the disproportionate impact of these diseases on women and girls. AIDS and TB are among the leading causes of death for women of reproductive age, and malaria in pregnancy is a major driver of maternal morbidity worldwide.

That's a big reason why women and girls feature so prominently in global development frameworks like the Sustainable Development Goals. It's also a big reason for the widespread support for the Global Fund. Not only does the Global Fund dedicate more than half its resources to programs that benefit women and girls, it also focuses on tackling the underlying causes of discrimination and inequality that make them especially vulnerable to these diseases.

For example, the Global Fund works to ensure that women and girls have a strong voice in designing health programs that meet their unique needs. In fact, nearly half of all decision-makers in Global Fund grant committees are now women. These programs also include a special focus on increasing access to health services for women who are especially at risk, including transgender women and sex workers.

The Global Fund equips women and girls with the skills and opportunities they need to make a difference in their communities. In Ethiopia, thanks to funding provided by the Global Fund, 38,000 female health workers have been trained to bring essential services to rural communities, and more women are accessing prenatal care and prevent transmission of HIV to their babies. As a result, the number of pregnant women accessing HIV treatment in Ethiopia has increased dramatically, from 2 percent in 2009 to 55 percent in 2013.

Additionally, the Global Fund works with countries to strengthen their overall health systems. It encourages them to integrate maternal and newborn health care with HIV, TB and malaria programs, making it easier for women to address all their health needs in one place. It also helps countries to develop national strategies that address the cultural and social barriers women and girls face when accessing health services.

These programs work. In twelve key African countries where the Global Fund invests, AIDS-related deaths in women declined by almost 60 percent between 2005 and 2015. More women in these countries are accessing and staying on treatment and millions have received services to prevent transmission of HIV to their babies. As a result of Global Fund programs, more women are also being diagnosed and treated for TB, and more women and their families have insecticide-treated nets to protect them from malaria.

The new resources committed to the Global Fund will be essential to building on these efforts and further improving the health and livelihoods of women and girls. But it's only one piece of the puzzle. We need to continue to support countries' efforts to integrate Global Fund programming with global efforts to improve the lives of women and girls - including the new global strategy of the UN's Every Woman Every Child initiative.

We also need to work across sectors to ensure we have the greatest possible impact. Collaboration among civil society, governments, affected communities, development partners and industry will be key for translating commitments into health programs that save lives. And if we're successful, we will make a significant difference in the health and lives of women and children everywhere, and ultimately end AIDS, TB and malaria for good.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post to mark the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, or, officially, "Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development"). The SDGs represent an historic agreement -- a wide-ranging roadmap to sustainability covering 17 goals and 169 targets -- but stakeholders must also be held accountable for their commitments. To see all the posts in the series, visit here.

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