Eight years ago, I suffered a life-threatening complication after delivering my daughter. I was fortunate to have access to health care providers who managed the situation. The experience set me on a path to ensure that geography alone no longer determines whether or not childbirth is deadly for women and infants.
Bono, of U2, a great friend and an inspiration in his human rights advocacy, has long said, "Where you live should not determine whether you live." He has used this phrase when describing his work to fight HIV/AIDS, and for me, it puts words to an incredible injustice, one where my life's passions converge: the fight against AIDS and the health of mothers across the world. In its World AIDS Day Report, UNAIDS, the U.N. program for AIDS/HIV, estimates that at the end of 2010, half of the 34 million adults worldwide living with HIV and AIDS were women.
Dec. 1 is World AIDS day, which gives us an important moment to renew our commitment to providing the health care that can rid the world of this disease.
In recent years, there have been big strides in the fight against AIDS. 2005 in particular marked a real moment of promise, and for the first time, perhaps, the glimmer of hope for eradication became something more. AIDS had long been considered an intractable problem, but the global community had started to prove to itself that it could do something. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, an international financing organization to fund prevention and treatment of those diseases, had been up and running for three years, and the U.S. government had rolled out its own effort, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, in 2003.
Soon I would have the opportunity to get involved. Bono and Bobby Shriver, a member of the Santa Barbara, Calif. City Council, came up with the concept of (RED), allowing the public to help solve some of the world's problems simply by purchasing products that they already wanted. It seemed an ideal way to raise money and spread the message that we all can, and must, play a part in the fight against AIDS.
In 2006, when (RED) invited me to participate in its U.S. launch by being photographed for the first Gap (RED) advertising campaign, I happily agreed. I knew, as a mom and as a citizen of the world, that this was a chance to help ensure the health and well-being of other mothers. To date, (RED) has generated more than $180 million for the Global Fund and has reached more than 7.5 million people affected by AIDS in Africa. It has helped build awareness about HIV/AIDS, with education about life skills, nutrition, HIV testing and counseling, anti-retroviral treatment, and the prevention of mother-to-child transmission. Every person who has chosen to buy (RED) has participated in this achievement, but our work together has only just begun.
Since the campaign launched, I have visited several (RED) countries while filming my first documentary, NO WOMAN, NO CRY, and establishing Every Mother Counts, an advocacy and mobilization campaign that I launched in 2010 to increase education and support for maternal and child health.
During this time, I met families living with the virus, some with access to treatment and others without it, and it is easy to see why this matters. Access is about more than preventing death -- it's about improving the quality of an individual life and the ripple effect this can have on an entire family and community. The impact to date is extraordinary. For example, more than 6.6 million people are on anti-retroviral drugs globally, up from 100,000 in 2002, which was nearly inconceivable less than a decade ago.
Now it's time to dream of reaching another goal -- one that can mark the beginning of the end of AIDS.
Over the next four years, (RED) and the global health community are working together to deliver an AIDS-free generation by 2015. There are an estimated 1.4 million HIV-positive women in the world. By providing women access to the right medication and treatment, for a mere 40 cents a day, we can ensure that HIV-infected mothers do not pass the virus to their children. (For example, the World Health Organization recommends access to anti-retroviral treatment during pregnancy and through one year of breastfeeding.)
As a mother and global maternal health advocate, I have a powerful interest in this. A woman dies from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes every 90 seconds, approximately 358,000 deaths each year. Just as we have the knowledge to prevent almost every mother from dying needlessly in pregnancy and childbirth, we can prevent 390,000 children being born HIV-positive, most of whom will die by their second birthday, according to UNAIDS. If we believe that each life is of equal value, we can reach what might seem like inconceivable goals. We need to believe that every mother counts, and if we prove that she does, she will make sure everyone in her family counts, too.
This World AIDS Day, the fight against AIDS will reach a critical turning point, and we need continued support from governments, corporations and everyone else to realize the first AIDS-free generation in 30 years. One way to contribute to this global campaign is to take part in the (2015) QUILT being launched this year by (RED) and ONE, an anti-poverty advocacy organization.
Building on the legacy of the 1987 AIDS Quilt, the (2015)QUILT allows you to pledge your support in the fight against HIV/AIDS while contributing to an ever-growing digital quilt. Using a simple, creative toolkit, you can design your own panel on the quilt, add a personal message, and commit to either buying a (RED) product this holiday season or joining ONE and asking your friends to join.
The quilt will be shared via Facebook with millions of people around the world. Together, we will have played a role in bringing about the beginning of the end of AIDS.
Like Every Mother Counts on Facebook.