THE BLOG

Hope and Health in the New Year and in the Years to Come

01/29/2013 04:24 pm ET | Updated Mar 31, 2013
AP

On a recent visit to St. Theresa Mission Hospital near Ndola, Zambia, I listened as health workers and patients reflected on their community's battle with HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. One man opened our conversation with a blunt assessment of the past: "There were a lot of funerals and a lot of stigma."

But, he went on, a mix of hard work, community leadership and international generosity has helped transform the health and lives of his neighbors.

Looking to the year ahead, we have good cause for hope in global health. Countless international communities like Ndola are advancing the fight against these three diseases, armed with the crucial support of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria -- the world's largest health financier -- and bilateral health programs like the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the President's Malaria Initiative (PMI).

Global Fund-supported programs save more than 100,000 lives every month worldwide. Behind this staggering figure are individual patients who, one by one, receive services that can change their lives -- and the lives of their families -- forever.

When I was in Zambia, I saw how donor resources in the hands of committed health workers have given families new hope for a healthier future. Isther, a young mother of three, recalled a time during her first pregnancy when her husband fell seriously ill. Fearful for her child's future, she and her husband got tested for HIV. They were both positive.

Not that long ago, Isther's story might have ended tragically. Instead, she and her husband started treatment, and she received services to prevent HIV transmission to her child. Her baby was born HIV-negative. Two years later she gave birth to a healthy set of twins. Today Isther and her family are healthy and happy, with all three children still HIV-free.

There is still much work to be done in Ndola, but now people living with HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis are largely embraced by their neighbors, rather than being isolated and shamed as they were in the past. Patients like Isther can get the treatment they need with the dignity they deserve. Thanks to programs financed through the Global Fund, they can once more lead healthy, productive lives, send their children to school, and work to support their community, creating a better world for all of us.

Across the border, Zambia's neighbor Tanzania provides another illustration of progress. In a country where, according to UNAIDS estimates, roughly one in 17 adults is HIV-positive, a recent Global Fund grant agreement puts them on track to provide universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment by 2015. In combination with local leadership and other international donor support, this landmark agreement allows Tanzania to:

  • reach 660,000 individuals with antiretroviral treatment;
  • offer 96 percent of pregnant women HIV testing and counseling; and
  • provide 346,000 HIV-positive pregnant women with services to prevent transmission to their babies.

Global Fund grants in Tanzania and Zambia are just two examples from the organization's work in 150 countries -- and just a small sample of the progress that is possible through these lifesaving efforts. The Global Fund is working harder than ever to ensure that its resources are available for those who need them most. And under the leadership of the Global Fund's new Executive Director, former U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Mark Dybul, who took office last week, the organization will be well-positioned to write its next chapter of lifesaving success.

Even with all of this progress, the work is far from over. Many families and communities still lack access to the prevention, treatment and care they need. But we are moving in the right direction. An AIDS-free generation is within reach. Innovations in treatment, testing and prevention are ever advancing. And with continued commitment to better health, we can anticipate a year filled with more hopeful stories from around the world.