Having just finished reading Peter Piot's exceptional memoirs, No Time To Lose: A Life in Pursuit of Deadly Viruses, in which he not only shares his remarkable discovery of the Ebola virus, but how he has spent the majority of his adult life fighting the AIDS epidemic -- both as a scientist and as a politician. It struck me that there are really only two things that the general public needs to know about the state of AIDS today:
1) How far we've come in the last three decades -- from only 200,000 on treatment in 2001, to eight million today.
2) How far we've still got to go.
And it's this second point that we just can't afford to ignore.
This week is the start of the 19th International AIDS Conference, here in Washington, D.C. The conference will see more than 25,000 delegates come together to meet, learn and share their experiences, scientific discoveries and community programs. But despite the incredible achievements that have been made to date, I wonder whether the conference will honestly address a crucial question: Is there truly the political will, the communal will, and the global funding to really change the course of this epidemic to get to where we need to be? While HIV is still not curable, it is treatable and certainly preventable. So how is it that something that is so deadly, yet (theoretically) so easy to prevent, is able to continue its destructive march?
It's true that in the last decade alone, the world has made tremendous achievements and taken significant strides to tackling the rampaging AIDS epidemic. Thanks to the politicians, scientists, activists and even the pharmaceuticals, we now live in a world where treatment is effective and increasingly affordable for the many; mother-to-child transmission of HIV can conceivably be eliminated within the next few years; new methods of prevention, including male circumcision and treatment as prevention, is seeing proven results; and stigma is (slowly) being addressed by many governments around the world.
But the fact remains that this is not enough, not nearly enough. For every one person on treatment, another two are becoming infected with HIV. When it comes to AIDS, the world is running on an ever-increasing hamster wheel, so we must tackle (and fund!) AIDS today, or in another decade we will realize our mistake, and the disease will potentially be even harder to stop.
The truth is, there is no simple answer to this problem. And there is no single solution that will ultimately eradicate this virus from our lives. But if we truly want, and we truly believe, that the next generation of young people should be -- and could be -- the first AIDS-free generation in our lifetime, then we must do much more than this conference is promising. And I believe that the only way that will ever happen, is when the world remembers to care, remembers that the problem of AIDS they responded to when it first became known, is still very much here.
Here in Washington, D.C., HIV is a shocking but silent epidemic; the official statistic is that one in 20 is HIV-positive. But it's a statistic that increases quite dramatically when focusing on young African-American males in the city, whose infection rate equals that of young men in South Africa -- one of the countries hardest hit by this disease. At the MTV Staying Alive Foundation, we work with the Grassroots Project, the only youth-led HIV prevention project in all of Washington, D.C. The Grassroots Project does incredible work, using sport as a tool to educate middle and high school kids about HIV and sexual health.
At the MTV Staying Alive Foundation, we believe that we need a multi-pronged approach in the fight against HIV -- a combination of supporting innovative programs, such as the Grassroots Project in D.C., by funding the creative and ambitious leaders that run those programs. And at the same time, we look to produce ground-breaking content that reinforces the urgent message to stop HIV before it starts. Viacom, a founding partner and home to the Foundation under the MTV International banner, has a rich legacy of giving a voice to the messages and information audiences need to take action. Since the start of the epidemic, many of Viacom's brands, including MTV BET, Logo and Paramount, have been committed to using the strength of their platforms and resources -- i.e. airtime, content and access to talent -- to help bring an end to AIDS.
For the last three decades the world has deeply cared about the fight against AIDS and those affected by the disease. And we have made such remarkable progress. But for a disease that is today both treatable and, crucially, preventable -- this is still not good enough. Despite our incredible achievements to date -- scientifically, politically and socially, now is perhaps the hardest time, because it is so important that we care just a little bit more. The danger is, by being complacent today we find ourselves back to where we were a decade ago. And that would be tragic.
Stay tuned for more updates on MTV Staying Alive at the 2012 International AIDS Conference at blog.viacom.com.