STATEMENTS BY SENATORS;The Global Fund – 31 Aug 2016

I rise today to speak about the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, also known simply as the Global Fund in the international community. I notice a group of young schoolchildren up in the gallery, so welcome. I think this might be of great interest to those children up there. What I am going to talk about is the importance of the Global Fund both to the international community and to Australia. I am also going to tell a true story which illustrates what a profound impact the fund has had on one family in particular.

Anyone who has followed my speeches in this place will know that overseas development assistance is a topic that is quite dear to my heart. I have spoken before about my own personal journey to Vietnam, where my husband and I have done volunteer work in several orphanages on a few occasions. My husband also visits Kenya quite regularly to assist local organisation Bethlehem Community Centre with their work supporting orphans and vulnerable children and families in Africa. In fact, he has just come back from three weeks away doing that. I also support Bethlehem Community Centre at every opportunity that I can.

While we know that there are people doing it tough in Australia, we are also a very wealthy and prosperous country. When you visit and volunteer in a developing country, your concept of poverty gets turned completely on its head. The idea of extreme property becomes more than a theoretical concept or just a set of statistics. You meet real people who experience real poverty—people with heartbreaking struggles yet amazing spirit and determination. It is a profound and life-changing experience. I hope that the students in the gallery today, when they are older, get to experience some work or some volunteering overseas or get to visit some of these countries, because it is something that I would recommend to anybody—not just to those children and the senators in this place but to anybody who wants to broaden their perspective on the struggles facing the world.

Let me tell you about the experience of someone who is a friend of mine and of my Tasmanian Senate colleague Senator Carol Brown. Our friend Jeremy in 2007 volunteered in the Nyanza Province of Kenya, in the country’s rural west. Because he was away from his own family for three months, his neighbours in the village of Katolo adopted him as a son and asked him to call them his family. As such, Jeremy gained a second loving mother and father, four brothers and five sisters. The ‘sister’ who Jeremy spent most of his time with, Mary, taught him how to speak the local language and how to cook and oriented him towards the village and nearest towns.

She and her family were also actively involved in efforts to alleviate poverty in their community, and Jeremy worked side by side with them. Mary and Jeremy have remained close friends ever since, and Jeremy returned in 2014 with his then fiancee, now wife, to spend Christmas with the family. Earlier this year, after celebrating Mary’s 37th birthday, Jeremy received the scary news that her persistent cough had been diagnosed as active TB—scary because TB is the fourth-leading cause of mortality in Kenya and drug-resistant cases are present, scary because it spreads as easily as the common cold and scary because Mary is very involved in the care of her family, particularly two of her younger brothers.

Nyanza Province also has the highest HIV prevalence in Kenya, and the compromised immune systems of people who are HIV positive makes them especially susceptible to active TB. So this was, understandably, a very frightening time for Mary and her family and of concern to Jeremy and his family back in Tasmania. A nurse at the clinic had put Mary on a treatment regime where she had to take pills every day for six months. Had she lapsed in her treatment, Mary would have risked developing drug-resistant TB and facing an even deadlier battle. The treatment was unpleasant and it was difficult to travel regularly to the clinic on her tight budget. One thing that took the financial pressure off Mary and her family was that her medicines were free.

Ten years ago Kenya developed a national TB program based on the World Health Organization’s Stop TB Strategy. Part of the gap in financing the program was covered by a grant from the Global Fund, complementing increased domestic financing. The current grant has so far disbursed US$36.8 million in pooled funds to Kenya, including funds donated by the Australian government. This has enabled procurement of TB pharmaceuticals and health products, such as GeneXpert diagnostic machines, and increasing the number of health staff trained in management of multidrug-resistant TB and TB-HIV co-infection.

The Global Fund is a vital weapon in the fight against three of the world’s deadliest epidemics: HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. It was founded in 2002 and through its actions the Global Fund saved 17 million lives. That is roughly three-quarters of the population of Australia. It is on track to saving 22 million lives by the end of this year, with a one-third decline in the number of people dying from HIV, TB and malaria since 2002. Of the 15.8 million people on antiretroviral treatment for HIV worldwide, 9.2 million of them are receiving their treatment thanks to the Global Fund. In addition, 15.1 million people have received TB treatment in the countries where the Global Fund operates and 659 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets have been distributed to help prevent malaria.

Recently I met with representatives of RESULTS Australia in my office to discuss the Global Fund and the Fifth Replenishment Conference in Montreal on 16 September. As I have mentioned in previous speeches in this place, RESULTS is an organisation which campaigns for government action to bring an end to extreme poverty. Jeremy, whom I mentioned earlier, was one of the three RESULTS representatives I met with, and it was in this meeting that he recounted the story of Mary and her family. RESULTS representatives have met with a number of other senators in this place and I know that several, if not all, of my Tasmanian colleagues have written to the Minister for Foreign Affairs urging her to make a fair commitment to the Global Fund.

The Fifth Replenishment Conference aims to raise US$13 billion for the next three years or roughly A$17 billion. This will generate US$41 billion in additional domestic investments for health, which is expected to avert 300 million new infections across the three diseases, saving around eight million lives. For the countries affected, the investment in saving lives will lead to US$290 billion in long-term economic gains. A fair share from Australia is estimated to be A$300 million and it is imperative that we deliver on this commitment. As a prosperous nation, not only does Australia have a moral responsibility to do so but it is also in our domestic and national interest to make a strong commitment to the Global Fund. Having a healthy world population not only leads to strong economic growth for our trading partners but also, by preventing and treating deadly diseases in other countries, makes it easier to stop them from entering Australia.

I must confess to being profoundly disappointed with this Liberal government’s record on foreign aid. It is unfortunate that Australia’s share of aid as a proportion of gross national income has gone backwards. In 2012-13, Australia spent 0.35 per cent of gross national income, or 35c in every $100, on foreign aid. Labor at the time had committed to increasing aid spending to 0.5 per cent of GNI. In the government’s latest budget, Australia’s aid spending is at just 0.22 per cent of GNI and on a trajectory to fall to 0.17 per cent by 2025-26. A strong commitment of Australia’s fair share or greater to the Global Fund at next month’s replenishment conference would be a good start in redeeming the Abbott-Turnbull government’s poor record on foreign aid.

You cannot underestimate the impact that our previous investment in the Global Fund has had. Mary, whose story I recounted earlier, finished her six-month TB treatment just last week. I am pleased to report that her treatment was successful, as have the treatments of another 137,000 Kenyans whose lives have been restored by this one grant from the Global Fund. Kenya’s TB Grant Performance Report shows that the country has received ratings of B1 or higher from the Global Fund for its TB grant, meaning it has either adequately met or exceeded its expectations during every review period. These results show exceptional value for our investment in the Global Fund.

Through the Global Fund the world is seeing millions of people being restored to health, or even avoiding infections in the first place. And we are actually seeing the tide being turned against some of the world’s most widespread and deadly epidemics. The gains already made by the Global Fund demonstrate that we can win the fight against deadly diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. All it takes is the political will to do so. So let’s make it happen.