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France Health Funding Conference

Irish rock band U2 singer Bono, left, French fashion designer Olivier Rousteing, center behind, and French President Emmanuel Macron, right, pose for a family picture at Lyon's city hall, central France, Wednesday Oct. 9, 2019, before the funding conference of Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

(Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)

How often do you see world leaders and governments give more than was asked of them for the sake of helping people in deepest poverty?

On Oct. 10, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria reached and exceeded its $14 billion funding goal from donors around the world — an extraordinary achievement. Most readers are probably unfamiliar with the Global Fund, not to mention the role St. Louis advocates played in making this historic pledge happen. This news is an example of democracy working properly and things actually getting done through Congress.

So, what is the Global Fund? It is one of the most effective health partnerships on the planet, having helped save more than 32 million lives since 2002. The Global Fund combines investments from public and private donors, resulting in immense progress in the fight against preventable diseases. Thanks in part to this global effort, annual AIDS-related deaths have been cut in half since 2005, and deaths from malaria have declined by 60% since 2000.

In Afghanistan, the Global Fund is helping the fight against tuberculosis. In 2016, the World Health Organization reported 65,000 cases and 11,000 deaths from tuberculosis in Afghanistan. In 2017, the number of detected cases enrolled for treatment had dropped to 47,406.

In Senegal, Dieynaba Sow, a health volunteer, has the training and support to save children from malaria. And Bukekile Dube, a Zimbabwean-born advocate I met last summer, shared that, thanks to HIV/AIDS treatment provided by the Global Fund, five of her aunts and uncles, plus a cousin in her 20s, are alive today.

Yet, these epidemics remain one of the greatest challenges of this century. Every day, AIDS claims 2,000 lives. The countries most affected by AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria are making their own investments, contributing more than ever before. But if we don’t keep up the momentum, those diseases will make a comeback.

What can we do here in St. Louis? What have we been doing?

Grassroots volunteers in St. Louis, through non-partisan movements like the One campaign, Bread for the World, and Results, met with our U.S. senators and representatives and compelled them to take action for the Global Fund. We wrote to news media, held meetings, called our lawmakers regularly with friendly reminders, and taught others to take action.

Sen. Roy Blunt’s aides kept in touch with us throughout the budget process as he made his funding recommendations, and Rep. Ann Wagner has been a great advocate in Congress, leading a bipartisan letter last spring to get more funding for the Global Fund and sponsoring a resolution this fall. Partnerships between lawmakers and constituents on this issue come from years of ongoing conversations.

Personally, even when I don’t agree with these lawmakers on every issue, I’m thrilled to be able to speak up and see action taken based on concerns I raised. Democracy is supposed to work this way. Whether you’re a middle school student, a retired doctor, or filling a different role in your community, your voice matters. Sometimes, we can even influence political decisions that have a huge impact, like the Global Fund does.

When the White House repeatedly tried to slash the budget for the Global Fund, volunteer advocates worked with Congress to stand united in a bipartisan way. Instead of the president’s proposed cut, we are going to see a 16% boost because both Republicans and Democrats recognize the importance of global health.

The Global Fund has a new strategy to save 16 million more lives by 2022. In order to make it happen, they needed $14 billion for the next three years, and we have now exceeded that goal by raising $14.02 billion — the largest amount ever raised for a multilateral health organization.

The work of grassroots advocates paid off and those investments will continue to reap benefits, transforming millions of lives around the world.

Where do we go from here? Well, promises are only promises. We can all remind Sens. Blunt and Josh Hawley to make sure America keeps its word, living up to our pledges in the 2020 budget. There is always room in our movement for people passionate about building a more just and healthy world. Let’s celebrate how far we’ve come, and then get back to work.

Yara Changyit-Levin is a co-leader of the Results St. Louis global poverty group.