HIV Has Found a New Ally -- Complacency

12/01/2013 10:18 am ET | Updated Jan 31, 2014

This World AIDS Day (December 1) is a time for cautious optimism--cautious being the operative word.

I can vividly recall the hysteria and the overwhelming ignorance when HIV/AIDS was first thrust into the public eye. Fast forward to today and it's a very different story. Although stigma and discrimination are still a big problem -- for example, people living with HIV are still subject to international travel restrictions in many countries -- HIV is no longer necessarily a death sentence. With the right treatment, people living with HIV can effectively live normal lives. Since 2001, the global rate of new HIV infections has fallen 33 percent, from 3.4 million a year to 2.3 million a year in 2012.

You could be forgiven, then, for thinking that we've tamed a killer and averted a crisis. Job done. On the contrary, in many countries HIV is as deadly as ever and it has found a new ally -- complacency.

Richard Horton, Editor of The Lancet, summed up the global AIDS situation perfectly in his "Offline" column last month:

Go to parts of Africa and see for yourself if the end of AIDS is anywhere in sight. It is not, and to suggest that it might be is to imply, incorrectly, that the era of AIDS is drawing to a close. If we even suggest that the end of AIDS is within reach, we will give politicians an excuse to be complacent -- to stop investing in AIDS research and HIV treatment and prevention programmes.

Increased global funding to combat the disease is crucial if we are to continue the reduction of new HIV infections, but this is just not happening. Total donor funding has stagnated at about the same level since 2008. Of even greater concern is the fact that almost two-thirds of funding has come from just one country: the USA. The rest of the world needs to rise to the challenge.

We have made historic progress; there is no doubt about that. But the illusion that we have finally subdued HIV is a dangerous one. Every single day there are still 6,000 new infections. About 40 percent of these new infections are in young people. This is an unacceptable reality.

We need to ensure that the needs of these young people are not overlooked. After all, they are the lifeblood of our society. They are our future. To put in terms that the politicians and economists can relate to more easily: if we fail to invest in young people now, we not only fail them, we jeopardise the well-being and prosperity of future generations.

This World AIDS Day, we will also be celebrating the 15th anniversary of the MTV Staying Alive campaign, which harnesses the power of the MTV brand globally to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS among young people and prevent the spread of the disease. Over the years the MTV Staying Alive Foundation has worked with and supported thousands of young activists and leaders, who go out into their communities every day, often in hostile environments, to challenge the HIV-related stigma, discrimination, and ignorance that is rife in many societies. These young people are defiant, courageous, impatient, energetic, passionate, and completely inspiring. In them we have an untapped resource of unimaginable power to combat the creeping complacency about HIV.
They are the reason I'm cautiously optimistic about what we can achieve before the MTV Staying Alive Foundation celebrates another major anniversary.

There are over a 1.6 billion people between the ages of 12 and 24 years in the world today; if we can mobilise them in the fight against HIV, then we really do have an opportunity to turn the tide of this epidemic once and for all.