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Leaders to Fight Disease in Pacific

Influential business, political and community leaders have joined forces to boost the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in the Pacific region.

Governor–General Quentin Bryce launched the Pacific Friends of The Global Fund in Sydney on Monday.

The group aims to raise awareness for the regional work of the fund, a not–for–profit organisation set up in 2002 to provide financing to combat the three diseases.

There are 350,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the Pacific and half a million new cases of tuberculosis in Indonesia alone each year.

Pacific Friends’ new chair Wendy McCarthy said the more than 20 people involved in the group were quick to offer their help.

“They’re all individually committed,” she said.

“It’s a way of putting the Pacific back on the agenda to grow it again and try to get the infrastructure back and build awareness of the work that can be done.”

The group includes former High Court justice Michael Kirby, Fortescue Metals boss Andrew Forrest, former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, Australian Industry Group director Heather Ridout, journalist Ita Buttrose and prominent lawyer Lucy Turnbull, wife of federal Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull.

Diver Matthew Mitcham, who won gold at the Beijing Olympics, will be the group’s youth ambassador.

He said the three diseases were some of the most infectious and he wanted to help raise awareness in support of the fight to eradicate them.

“The demographic that I’m in is the young, gay community which is obviously affected by HIV and AIDS,” Mitcham said after the launch.

“So that was probably the largest reason I became involved, the fact that HIV is so common in our community.

“I will be visiting communities when I can and learning as much as I can so I can educate as much as I can.”

Ms Bryce, who is the new patron of Pacific Friends, said the fund channelled grants worth almost $US1 billion ($A1.56 billion) into the region.

“For the first time ever we are poised to make a significant and enduring impact,” she told the gathering.

“In our region, in our generation, not only treatment but eradication is within our grasp.”

“We are ready to change not only statistics but the face and future of human life.”

The Global Fund has so far committed more than $US15 billion ($A23.34 billion) for large scale prevention, treatment and care programs in 140 countries.

Pacific Friends is the latest friends organisation formed to support the fund, joining groups operating in Africa, the US, Japan, Europe, Latin America and Asia.

Pacific Friends was founded with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and is supported by the Lowy Institute which will provide a base for the group.

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