Like you, Nothing But Nets has been following the COVID-19 pandemic closely. While this pandemic is challenging countries across the globe, we continue to be inspired by how individuals, communities, and organizations are stepping up to support each other. One great role model for how global health actors in the fight against malaria can also address the threat of COVID-19 is the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis (TB), and Malaria.
Over the past few weeks, the Global Fund has sprung into action to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the three diseases and bolster health systems that are facing unprecedented levels of demand. By allowing countries to re-program up to 5% of their pre-existing grants, the Global Fund has made US$500 million dollars available to allow countries to ensure that COVID-19 does not derail progress in fighting AIDS, TB and malaria.
As of April 21st, 2020, the Global Fund has approved re-programming requests from 64 countries and three regional programs, committing a total of US$94 million dollars to COVID-19 response efforts. Most requests have been approved within two days. These funds are particularly integral in countries with limited health system capacity. Funds are being used for protective equipment like masks and sanitizing gel for health workers, epidemic preparedness assessments, laboratory testing, surveillance, infection control in health facilities, and information campaigns among other efforts to safely continue delivering lifesaving AIDS, TB, and malaria programs while helping countries cope with the burden of COVID-19.
In addition to these granting flexibilities, this month the Global Fund took one additional step to provide funds for COVID-19 when it announced a COVID-19 Response Mechanism. This mechanism will channel an additional US$500 million for countries to use in their COVID-19 response efforts. Combined with the original US$500 million made available through grant reprogramming, the Global Fund has committed a total of US$1billion to the COVID-19 response in under four weeks.
With two decades of experience mobilizing, coordinating, and investing in TB, HIV and malaria programs in 100 countries around the world, the Global Fund is well place to lend their expertise in supply chain coordination, technical guidance and in-country stakeholder management to the COVID-19 global response effort. The Global Fund is working in lockstep with the World Health Organization (WHO), numerous governments and fellow multilateral organizations including the World Bank; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; UN agencies; the Africa CDC; as well as private-sector manufacturers, to bolster the global response to COVID-19.
In addition to providing countries the funds they need to strengthen health systems and mitigate disruptions to essential health services caused by COVID-19, the Global Fund has been quick to speak out about the impact of COVID-19 on programs that are actively preventing and responding to TB, HIV, and malaria. Together, the three diseases cause an estimated 3 million deaths annually.
Not only does COVID-19 threaten the progress that has been made to fight the three diseases, but it also poses a grave danger to people currently living with TB, HIV, and malaria. These vulnerable communities will now face a new barrier when accessing prevention, diagnosis or treatment services.
“For communities suffering heavily from HIV, TB, and malaria, COVID-19 represents a double threat,” said Peter Sands, Director of the Global Fund. “First, people who are immunocompromised or already have lung problems may be even more vulnerable if they become infected with COVID-19. Second, COVID-19 will disrupt programs to prevent and treat HIV, TB and malaria, with a consequent impact on mortality and infection rates. So, we need an effective response to COVID-19 that takes account of this knock-on impact,” he added.
As the global demand for medical supplies and medications continues to compromise the delivery of health services, the Global Fund is taking steps to avoid procurement delays and stockouts of HIV, TB and malaria commodities. Maintaining adequate stocks of HIV, TB and malaria treatments and continuing key prevention activities such as rapid diagnostics and bed net distribution campaigns will help minimize the increase of deaths from the three diseases.
COVID-19 has already begun to disrupt malaria prevention activities such as bed net distribution campaigns and integrated community case management (iCCM) of febrile illnesses, including malaria. As countries across the African continent head into the rainy season the absence of new nets and malaria treatments could lead to a spike in new cases and deaths – ultimately threatening to reverse years of progress against malaria in many countries.
The US$1 billion that has been made available by the Global Fund will allow countries to act quickly as they adapt their programs, including bed net distribution. For example, Benin is launching a bed net distribution campaign in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis – with protective equipment to protect workers and communities from the virus. Ultimately, success in this endeavor will allow bed nets to be in the homes of families before the rainy season begins.
In unison with civil society advocates, the WHO, governments, and other multilateral organizations, the Global Fund has taken the necessary first steps to ensure the global response to COVID-19 prioritizes investments in resilient health systems and supports the health providers on the front line of the pandemic. As the world continues to wage war against COVID-19, the Global Fund’s leadership and expertise will continue to be essential.
Nothing But Nets Champions have supported the success of the Global Fund for more than a decade through their advocacy. In 2019, over 600 Nothing But Nets Champions held 213 meetings with members of Congress, contributing to a historic $210 million annual increase in the US pledge for the Global Fund. It’s advocacy efforts like these that equip global health organizations with the funds needed to respond to outbreaks like COVID-19 and continue their lifesaving work. Raise your voice and ask your elected officials to tweet their support of UN agencies, the President’s Malaria Initiative, and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria today!