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The battle against the world’s deadliest diseases ‘can be won’

World leaders have been urged to dig deep into their pockets to ensure that three of the world’s deadliest diseases are wiped out within the next 10 years.

In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph Peter Sands, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, has said that the three diseases can be beaten but only if both donors and affected countries continue to invest.

In 2019 the fund will be holding its next replenishment conference when it aims to raise new funds in a bid to end the Aids, TB and malaria epidemics by 2030 in line with targets agreed by the United Nations.

The conference, held every three years, will aim to raise funds for 2020 to 2022. The fund has not yet set a funding target but will want to raise more than in 2016 when it received $12.9 billion.

Since the fund was founded in 2002 it has distributed nearly $40 billion in the fight against the three diseases.

Mr Sands, who took up the leadership of the fund in March after serving as chief executive of international bank Standard Chartered, told The Telegraph that the Global Fund had a strong case for investment.

“The Global Fund really delivers results – I cannot claim any credit. The reality is that the Global Fund has a fantastic record of delivering impact,” he said.

“But we also need to demonstrate that this is a battle that can be won. We can wipe out these diseases and that’s going to be the thrust of our investment case,” he said.

Mr Sands added that the Global Fund also had an “untold story” to tell: as well as being focused on the three diseases it also helps build health systems in the countries it supports.

“Although we have a disease-specific mandate we are also the largest provider of grants for building health systems. We spend $1 billion a year on supply chains, data systems, laboratory networks and building health workforce capabilities,” he said.

Mr Sands said there had been “incredible progress” made against the three diseases but the challenges ahead were also “impressive”.

The latest data from the World Health Organization showed that the number of cases of malaria increased in 2017 compared to 2016 – from 216m to 219m – with the 10 worst affected countries seeing increases in the number of cases.

Progress on HIV is slowing down, with an estimated nine million people globally living with HIV but unaware of their status. Mr Sands said that it was important to focus on key populations, such as adolescent girls and young women.

“If we are to beat the epidemic the big priority is to turn off the tap of new infections. Two million people a year are getting infected with HIV and we need to focus on the big drivers of that.

“About 1,000 adolescent girls and young women are infected every day and growth in the population means that those numbers will keep on increasing,” he said.

He described TB as the poor cousin of malaria and Aids in terms of the attention it gets but welcomed the spotlight turned to the disease at the United Nations high level meeting in September.

Around four million of the estimated 10m people who contract the disease every year go undiagnosed, said Mr Sands.

“A lot of the focus at the UN was around getting countries to commit to scaling up the identification of people with TB. We launched an initiative to find the missing people with TB at the beginning of 2018 and I’m hopeful we’ll show progress on that this year,” he said.

Some 95 per cent of the Global Fund’s donations come from donor countries and in the last funding round the United States led the donations with $4.3 billion, around a third of total funding. The UK pledged £1.1 billion and France pledged €1.08 billion making it the second largest donor.

Mr Sands said despite the uncertain times he was confident that countries would continue to be generous.

“A lot of governments are facing lots of complicated challenges but I have been very struck by the level of support for the Global Fund and for its mission. That support is bipartisan in many parts of the world and this is particularly true in Congress. And in the UK there’s strong parliamentary support across the parties,” he said.