Bono, Bill Gates headline donor conference fighting diseases

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Montreal (AFP) - An international donor conference closed in Saturday on a $13 billion fundraising target for the fight to eradicate AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria by 2030 -- cheered on by Bono, Bill Gates and political leaders.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is hosting the fifth triennial Global Fund replenishment conference to fight against these diseases, with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a half dozen heads of state also in attendance.

A concert featuring R&B artist Usher and indie band Metric was to be held in the evening to wrap up the two-day event.

"There is destruction that we have to stop. Bombings and war in Syria and elsewhere," Bono told conference delegates at the start of the second day.

"But there is also the slower, more grinding destruction that happens still in clinics where people queue up to get the last and worst news of their lives: HIV/AIDS," he said.

The U2 frontman and co-founder of the nonprofit group ONE that works to reduce poverty and disease in Africa quipped that the term replenishment "brings to mind a very cozy image of myself and Bill Gates in our robes sipping our green tea and waiting for our oxygen facials."

But he also recalled the personal sacrifices and losses of those fighting in the trenches against these diseases, while praising political leaders who have stepped up to help.

"This amateur boxer," he said of Trudeau, who boosted Canada's pledge by 20 percent to $600 million, "is a professional fighter on behalf of the values of the Canadian people. He's throwing some knock-out punches at these three diseases.

"It's who we all should be, in fact. It's not just who you are. It's who we all should be."

Created as a public-private initiative, the Global Fund has so far spent $30 billion on programs to fight the three deadly diseases around the world, with most of it going to Africa.

It has been credited with helping to save 22 million lives and preventing 300 million infections over the past decade as it pursues a UN target of eradicating AIDS by 2030 and the other diseases even sooner.

But it needs to raise another $13 billion to fund its operations over the next three years through 2019.

"We have the knowledge and tools to end HIV, TB and malaria by 2030," Ban said. "Let us work together to make this world healthier and better. I count on your strong commitment and leadership."

- 'The tipping point' -

Global Fund executive director Mark Dybul commented: "We are on the right side of the tipping point."

"But the thing about tipping points is they can go in either direction, and these next three years will be absolutely essential to maintain the trajectory to get to the end of TB and malaria and the control of HIV," he said.

A failure to do so now risks these diseases coming back stronger and in a drug-resistant form -- a worrying possibility, which world leaders are set to debate at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Wednesday.

If drug resistance grows, the costs of treatment would soar. The average cost of treating tuberculosis, for example, could jump from $400 per patient now to $15,000 for a drug-resistant version, said Dybul.

The emergence of antimicrobial resistance, said Ban, "threatens our response to all three diseases" and represents a "global health threat."

He called on the Global Fund to join this fight too.

"We are the generation that can keep these diseases under control," Dybul said.

Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, whose foundation has contributed a total of $1.6 billion to the Fund since its inception, touted simple measures taken to stem the spread of disease, such as forming youth clubs where boys and girls learn how to avoid contracting HIV.

He also heralded scientific breakthroughs, including new insecticides, longer-lasting vaccines in the fight against malaria, as well as new diagnostic tools and drug regimens to identify and treat tuberculosis.

"We still have a lot of work to do to end these epidemics," Gates said. "But I am optimistic that we can get there. A key critical reason for this is that we have science on our side."

While more than 100 countries have received assistance from the Fund, in excess of 70 percent of its spending has gone to African countries, according to Global Fund figures.

Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda have received the most.

In Montreal, President Macky Sall of Senegal, Mali's Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Alassane Ouattara, the president of Ivory Coast, reiterated the urgency of saving lives.

"Disease knows no borders," said Sall.

Early pledges have already brought the Fund to within 85-90 percent of that objective, spokesman Seth Faison told AFP.

The United States, which has provided nearly one-third of the total funding so far, has pledged an additional $4.3 billion. The second biggest donor, France, announced in June it would provide $1.2 billion, maintaining its current level of commitment.

It was followed by Germany, which is pledging $900 million, and Japan at $800 million.

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