Last week, people around the world gathered to recognize World AIDS Day, honor those whose lives have been lost to this tragic disease, reflect on the tremendous strides being made, and recommit to achieving an AIDS-free generation. As I arrived in South Africa to help open the 17th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA), we also noted the passing of a great leader and champion, Nelson Mandela, whose personal leadership and outspoken courage helped to break the silence surrounding HIV/AIDS, and brought hope and inspiration to millions of people living with the disease.
We have come so far since the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Merely 10 years ago, HIV/AIDS was still a death sentence in many countries -- destroying communities, stalling economic development, creating millions of orphans, and silencing the hopes and dreams of people around the world. In 2001, the pandemic was of such magnitude that the United Nations Security Council recognized it as a global threat. In response, in 2003, President Bush launched the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) -- the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease internationally. Today, through the collective efforts of partner countries, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund), and other key stakeholders, new HIV infections are falling steeply and AIDS-related deaths are on the deep decline.
America’s commitment, through PEPFAR, has been significantly strengthened under President Obama, and with continued bipartisan support from the United States Congress. This World AIDS Day, the President announced that PEPFAR now supports more than 6.7 million people on lifesaving antiretroviral treatment -– a four-fold increase since the President took office. Over the last two years alone, PEPFAR-supported programs also reached 1.5 million HIV-positive pregnant women with interventions to prevent HIV transmission to their babies -- allowing 470,000 babies to be born HIV-free who would have otherwise been infected during this period. In addition, through PEPFAR support, more than 4.2 million men have undergone voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC), which dramatically reduces the likelihood of acquisition of HIV – and PEPFAR is on track to reach the President’s goal of delivering VMMC to 4.7 million men by the end of 2013.
As President Obama said on World AIDS Day, “The United States will remain the global leader in the fight against HIV and AIDS.” That same day, President Obama reaffirmed this commitment by signing into law the PEPFAR Stewardship and Oversight Act of 2013, which reauthorizes the program for another five years. But the United States cannot win this fight alone. Achieving an AIDS-free generation is a shared responsibility and all partners have a role to play. As we enter PEPFAR’s second decade, countries are stepping up their leadership of national responses like never before, and we are witnessing unprecedented coordination with the Global Fund, UNAIDS, civil society, faith-based organizations, the private sector, and other partners. This collective embrace of country-led responses allows all partners to invest their respective resources in the most complementary and synergistic manner possible for maximum impact.
The strength of global partnerships was seen again last week, when the United States had the distinct honor of hosting the Global Fund’s Fourth Replenishment Conference in Washington, D.C. The United States is proud to be the Global Fund’s largest donor. In his World AIDS Day address, President Obama announced that America will continue its historic commitment to the Fund, pledging to seek up to $5 billion from fiscal year 2014 to fiscal year 2016 as a matching contribution of $1 dollar for every $2 dollars contributed by other donors. This challenge pledge will remain open for some months, and we urge other donors and partners to increase their support and not leave U.S. money on the table.
As I reflect back on the events of this remarkable week, the one word that comes to mind is ‘inspired’. As individuals, we should be inspired by how far the world has come in just a decade, turning what was once a death sentence into a life with hope. As a nation, we should be inspired and proud of the leadership role our country has played in helping to bring the world to this point. And as a global community, we must be inspired by the fact that an AIDS-free generation is truly within our reach.
About the Author: Deborah von Zinkernagel serves as the Acting U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator.