Global Fund: Unprecedented meeting during unprecedented times

Ian MatthewsNews

Advancing global health security and strengthening health systems is central to protecting the Global Fund’s core mission, and to fight new and emerging diseases like COVID-19.

HIV, TB, and malaria as well as COVID-19 have a disproportionate impact on the poorest households. These populations are more susceptible to disease and face more barriers to accessing prevention and treatment services.

Equal access to quality health services requires robust measures to identify those most at risk, where they live and how they are accessing services. It also involves special efforts to reach more disadvantaged communities and address barriers to access, including those that are physical, financial and cultural.

Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria said that the fight against COVID-19 and the fight against the three diseases “is one and the same fight. It’s not just a battle against one particular virus, it’s a commitment to make everyone safe. It’s about finishing the fights we haven’t yet won, and winning the new fight against COVID-19, as well as preparing ourselves for fights against pathogens as yet unseen.”

The Global Fund’s investments in resilient & sustainable systems for health (RSSH) address equity issues related to gender, key populations, wealth, education and the urban-rural divide, for improved access to quality health services.

At the 43rd Board Meeting of the Global Fund, the first in the history of the Fund to be held virtually, the Global Fund’s Board embraced a swift response to COVID-19 and committed to use its experience working with partners and governments in more than 100 countries to coordinate a response to the pandemic on a massive global scale. It agreed on the imperative to leave no one behind, stressing the critical role of communities in keeping people safe, especially when facing a new wave of challenges.

As the pandemic accelerated this spring, the Global Fund launched a number of new measures to respond swiftly and effectively to COVID-19 in close collaboration with other partners. To start, it is allowing recipient countries to reallocate 5% of approved grants to fight COVID-19. It is providing countries with access to an additional US$1 billion through the C19 Response Mechanism, helping to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on HIV, TB and malaria programs, and support urgent improvements in health and community systems.

The Global Fund is a founding partner of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, launched in late April by a global collaboration of organizations and governments working to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to new technologies, tools, therapeutics and vaccines to fight COVID-19. Working closely with key partners, international organizations, governments and technical agencies, the Global Fund also co-leads the WHO Diagnostics Consortium along with UNICEF, which negotiates pricing and procures molecular diagnostic tests for the COVID-19 response. The consortium was established under the leadership of WHO with the mission to rapidly and equitably support access to COVID-19 health products and diagnostics for low- and middle-income countries.

The Private Sector Constituency (PSC), comprised of 22 companies and represented on the Global Fund Board by PSC Board Member Sherwin Charles of Nando’s/Goodbye Malaria and Alternate Board Member Paul Schaper of Merck Sharp & Dohme, conveyed the PSC’s support of the Global Fund’s response to COVID-19 through the following statement:

The toll of COVID-19 on individual patients, populations, national healthcare systems and economies is unprecedented. Our global response to the pandemic will require a collaborative effort across all sectors – by the multi-lateral agencies, like the WHO and the Global Fund, governments, civil society, and the private sector – to stop the spread of COVID-19 and begin to reopen our countries and our economies and start the process of recovery.

The Private Sector Constituency applauds the Global Fund Secretariat’s timely and bold actions to protect the core mission of the Global Fund by quickly addressing COVID-19 and reducing disruptions in prevention and treatment of the three diseases, including the swift establishment of the COVID-19 Response Mechanism and the implementation of grant flexibilities, mobilizing up to US$1 billion. The Global Fund is a unique partnership that works tirelessly to protect the most vulnerable populations, specifically those impacted by HIV, TB and malaria. It has the organizational infrastructure to quickly deliver needed interventions for COVID-19 in coordination with other global health partners, including the private sector.

The private sector is deploying its capabilities, expertise and scale to address critical health needs related to COVID-19 and is at the forefront of the ongoing innovation efforts to develop and bring to market novel healthcare products and services. The current crisis highlights the importance of strengthening models of cross-sector collaboration to improve pandemic preparedness. The Private Sector Constituency is committed to supporting the Global Fund in its rapid and targeted response to COVID-19 while continuing supporting the three core diseases of HIV, TB and malaria.

“A concept of global health security that only focuses on threats to people living in rich countries won’t work,” Sands added. “We need global health security that protects everyone, from new threats and old, that is grounded in rights and that simultaneously recognizes the role of science and the equally important role of communities. We must unite to fight.”

Recognizing the severe danger posed by COVID-19 to the progress made against HIV, TB and malaria, the Board asserted a strong commitment to striving for equitable access and protecting the most vulnerable. The Global Fund and UNICEF are now the lead procurers of COVID-19 diagnostic tests and have secured production capacity with the four major manufacturers to operationalize the WHO allocation model and ensure equitable access to the available supplies. The Global Fund is procuring Cepheid and Abbott products, and UNICEF is procuring Thermo Fisher and Roche products. Countries receiving Global Fund grants may purchase diagnostic tests through the accelerated order process of the Global Fund’s Supply Operations Department. Other countries can reach out to UNICEF to purchase products, and to WHO for manual diagnostic tests.

The Board also discussed measures to make sure that mitigation and response strategies will protect people and save lives, by leveraging the power of multi-stakeholder engagement and partnerships including civil society, communities, government and private sector partners. The Board also discussed development of the next Global Fund Strategy and the need to adapt to the new challenges posed by COVID-19 and by climate change, with a fresh imperative, as one Board member put it, “for engaging our strengths in delivery of our purpose.” 

The PSC represents the private sector on the Global Fund Board and Committees and serves an essential role in shaping the Global Fund’s strategy. As the PSC Focal Point, GBCHealth facilitates the engagement of the 22 members of the PSC with the Global Fund and with private sector peers to ensure representation of private sector views in the Global Fund’s deliberations and to provide valuable input on issues such as strategy, ethics and governance, audit and finance, procurement and quality assurance, market dynamics, health systems strengthening, innovation, and impact.

Ian MatthewsGlobal Fund: Unprecedented meeting during unprecedented times