Lyon: Governments, philanthropists and private firms pledged just over $14 billion on Thursday for a plan to save 16 million lives, in a boost for the global fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
The money was promised at a replenishment meeting in Lyon, France, of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, where host President Emmanuel Macron had exhorted countries to give as much as they can.
"These are not simply numbers, they are lives," the French leader told delegates.
"The funds that are being asked of us are not... charity. It is a decision to invest against injustice," he added, highlighting the disproportionate rate of infection and deaths from the three diseases in poor countries and among women and girls.
The fund had asked for $14 billion, a sum it says will save 16 million lives between 2021 and 2023.
"We are targeting to halve by 2023 the annual death toll from these three epidemics and we are targeting to avert some 234 million infections," said the fund's chief executive Peter Sands.
Several delegates had expressed doubts that such a large sum could be generated as the focus switches away from diseases largely affecting poor countries, to other global problems.
"What we want to do is to make AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria disappear from the face of the Earth," Macron told delegates. He complained that the resolve to fight the deadly trio has weakened in rich countries because fewer of their own are dying and treatment, particularly for HIV, is now readily available.
And he warned against "slackening".
According to the UN's World Health Organization, 770,000 people died of HIV-related causes last year, with 1.7 million new infections. Tuberculosis, a high risk for HIV-positive people, claimed some 1.7 million lives in 2017, and malaria more than 430,000.
'Step up or slip back?'
The two-day meeting in Lyon was the sixth to replenish the fund since it was set up in 2002, with prominent supporters Microsoft founder Bill Gates and U2 lead singer Bono in attendance alongside a number of African heads of state.
"Where you live should not decide whether you live," the singer told delegates. "For 14 million people with AIDS who can't get the medication to save their lives, this is still an emergency."
At the official close of the conference, Macron announced that the final tally of pledges came to $13.92 billion. This was short of the target despite an additional $60 million made available by France in a bid to make up the shortfall, an amount Gates then matched.
Just minutes later, at a post-conference press briefing, Sands said Macron's call for last-minute contributions had been heeded, and the tally had crept up to $14.02 billion.
NGOs insist that even more is needed -- as much as $18 billion.
32 million lives saved
The United States is the number one donor with a $4.68 billion contribution already voted by Congress, and France's total pledge amounts to $1.43 billion.
NGOs welcomed the conference outcome, with Aides boss Marc Dixneuf describing it as a "relief".
"We consider it a success," said Abdourahmane Diallo of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria. "Besides the money, the conference has revealed solidarity" between nations.
Sands announced there had been increases in the pledges of all the G7 bloc of rich countries, 20 donations from African governments, and 11 new donors from the private sector.
Donations from Africa had doubled from the last meeting.
The Global Fund groups states, NGOs and private firms to support public health programmes around the world, investing about $4 billion every year. It says it has helped save 32 million lives and provided prevention, treatment and care services to hundreds of millions of people, while the yearly number of deaths caused by AIDS, TB and malaria has been slashed by 40 percent since 2002 in countries where the Fund invests.
"What we want to do is to make AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria disappear from the face of the Earth," said Macron.