Meaningful Change: An AIDS-free Generation by 2015

12/01/2011 08:46 am ET | Updated Jan 31, 2012

Thirty years ago, researchers first identified AIDS, and a global health crisis was born. After more than three decades of destruction, we are finally at a turning point and on a path to winning the war against HIV/AIDS. We are now on the verge of an incredible and highly attainable milestone -- virtually ending the transmission of HIV from moms to their babies by the end of 2015. Achieving this milestone and a number of other attainable goals can mark what the global health community is calling "the beginning of the end of AIDS."

The progress that has been made in recent years to fight the AIDS epidemic has been astounding. What was once a death sentence because of inaccessibility to treatment is now a disease that can be managed, thanks to life-saving antiretroviral medication. More than six million people are benefiting from this medication, the cost of which has dropped dramatically through the efforts of the public and private sectors. For the price of a U.S. postage stamp, people who are HIV-positive can receive the daily treatment needed to regain their strength and their opportunity at life.

More than 1,000 children are born with the virus every day. The good news is that the transmission of HIV from moms to their babies can now be prevented. A multi-tiered approach involving HIV screening of pregnant women, antiretroviral drug regimens for HIV-positive pregnant women, treatment during and after labor, and infant feeding guidelines has been shown to block mother-to-child transmission in up to 98% of cases. I saw this firsthand when I recently visited two (RED)-supported clinics in Ghana: the Tema Teaching Hospital and Korle Bu Clinic. There, I witnessed the miraculous sight of HIV-positive mothers surrounded by their HIV-negative babies.

The current Global Fund AIDS grant in Ghana receives over 50% of its funding from (RED) and has helped support programs that have provided more than 7,700 HIV-positive pregnant women with ARV prophylaxis to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission and established and supported more than 800 centers for prevention of mother-to-child transmission. By making this care accessible to more pregnant women, we can virtually eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV by 2015. The first AIDS-free generation in nearly 30 years is in sight.

Leaders from across the aisle and from around the world have demonstrated political and financial will to fight this disease. Governments have stepped up with funding, as have non-governmental organizations, which are working on the ground to educate and provide preventative and acute care.

Significant work still needs to be done. There are nearly nine million HIV-positive people in need of treatment in low-and middle-income countries, including 1.4 million HIV-positive pregnant women. More than 370,000 infants and children are infected with the virus each year. New HIV infections still outpace the number of people gaining access to treatment annually.

So, we find ourselves at a critical juncture in the fight against AIDS -- at a time of both great opportunity and significant challenges. Innovative financing solutions and the combined efforts of the public and private sectors as well as individuals are all the more important in this environment.

(RED) serves as a model for how the private sector can help catalyze meaningful change. To date, our partners have generated more than $180 million for the Global Fund, and over 7.5 million people in Africa affected by HIV/AIDS have been impacted by Global Fund programs that (RED) supports.

Our corporate partners have stepped up to play their part in the fight. On World AIDS Day, we are asking everyone to take action to help deliver an AIDS-free Generation by the end of 2015. Create a panel on our 2015QUILT and raise awareness amongst your friends. Buy a (RED) product this holiday season. Join ONE and press policymakers to act.

Working together, we can bring an end to AIDS. It's a remarkable, critical opportunity that we simply cannot afford to miss.