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Published: 08 June 2021

The Global Fund at 20: Changing the Story

Twenty years ago, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria looked unbeatable. Year after year, the world’s deadliest epidemics were claiming millions of lives with devastating consequences for families and communities around the world, especially in poor countries.

In 2001, the birth of a brave new partnership changed the story of global health, uniting world leaders, communities, civil society, health workers and the private sector to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Over the course of two decades, the three diseases have been stopped in their tracks.

This year, the Global Fund celebrates 20 years of making the impossible possible.

20 Years – How We Changed The Story

Our 20th anniversary film tells the story of the heroes who refused to accept the status quo and bravely took up the fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.

Messages of support

Global Fund friends and supporters speak about pivotal moments in the first 20 years of our pioneering partnership.

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20 years of partnership: celebrating the heroes of the fight against HIV/AIDS

Twenty years ago, the UN staged a landmark special session on HIV and AIDS. This added new momentum to the global wave of AIDS activism, which proved key to turning the tide on the pandemic. Here we highlight a few of the countless activist successes in the history of the Global Fund.

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Objects that Changed the Story

To mark the 20th anniversary of the Global Fund, we asked individuals, partners and communities across the globe to select objects that symbolize their journey in the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

The result is a rich collection of stories illustrating the wide variety of people and organizations who, through their commitment and hard work, have helped shape the Global Fund partnership over the past two decades.

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The Global Fund was born out of a refusal to accept the loss of millions of lives each year to diseases that were both preventable and treatable. This is the story of how that call for justice united partners around one table to show that even the most severe health threats can be beaten.

The history of the Global Fund begins in the late 1990s, when AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria were collectively killing more than six million people every year.

At the time, just 0.05% of people living with HIV in Africa were receiving antiretroviral therapy – medication that was already widespread in high-income countries. One million children were dying of malaria each year, while millions of tuberculosis cases went undetected and untreated.

Activists, especially in southern Africa, demanded equal access to treatment for everyone. Born from urgency, the call for justice grew louder, united around one goal: to save lives and end HIV, tuberculosis and malaria as epidemics.

Equal voices

The size of the emergency called for a flexible, fast response, unlike anything ever proposed before. With the backing of politicians, activists and development experts, the idea of a single fund to tackle AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria started to take shape. Kofi Annan, then Secretary-General of the United Nations, was our first donor. Annan was so convinced by the new approach that he personally pledged US$100,000 – his reward for winning the Philadelphia Liberty Medal.

The historic first meeting of the Global Fund Board took place in 2002. For the first time in the history of global health, everyone with a role in fighting epidemics had an equal seat and voice at the table – from sex workers and private sector companies to ministers from both donor and implementing countries.

Unprecedented impact

The Global Fund’s game-changing partnership has pushed the boundaries on how the world tackles disease, how countries contribute, how communities unite and how partners collaborate to solve seemingly unbeatable problems.

By venturing into uncharted territory, we have changed the story. In 20 years, we have saved an estimated 38 million lives – nearly halving the number of deaths caused by AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. By the end of the decade, we expect to have helped to eliminate malaria in at least 35 countries.

From Death Sentence to Hope: Turning the Tide on AIDS, TB and Malaria

If the world today is on course to halting AIDS, TB and malaria as epidemics, much of the success is owed to the tireless efforts of millions of health workers.

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Looking ahead

Today, the Global Fund partnership is stronger than ever, but the story is far from over. The COVID-19 pandemic represents an unprecedented threat to 20 years of progress against the three diseases. At the same time, the COVID-19 response is lacking essential resources.

We continue to work tirelessly to protect lifesaving AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria programs, while delivering critical supplies for the COVID-19 response to support overstretched health care systems and community health networks. If these systems collapse and health services are interrupted, the resulting increased death toll from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria will likely massively outweigh the direct impact of COVID-19 in low- and middle-income countries.

Twenty years after our birth, the world faces a monumental health challenge, and others will inevitably follow. Once again, our strength lies in our partnership. We have changed the story before. Together we must step up and write another chapter in the story of fighting deadly infectious diseases.

"Before the Global Fund, because there was no treatment if someone had HIV they would waste away and die. But since the Global Fund came, they changed the narrative."
Maurine Murenga,
Lean on Me Foundation, Kenya
"We pause to honor the part, in treatment availability and accessibility, of angry, principled and determined activists... For millions of poor people, their anger brought the gift of life."
Judge Edwin Cameron,
South Africa
"We are not a statistic, we are here. We demand nothing more than respect for our rights, simply the right to live and hope for a future."
Amanda Dushime, 
Réseau Grandir Ensemble, Burundi
"The Global Fund not only saved my life – it empowered me to fight for the rights of all women whose voices are overshadowed."
Erika Castellanos,
Global Action for Trans Equality, Belize

Read the Results Report 2021