Now that President Obama has asked Mark Dybul, who served as the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator since 2006, to step down, who will succeed him? I hope he taps Harvard Medical School professor Jim Yong Kim.
It's a crucial position, overseeing all international AIDS programming and funding, including the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a fifteen billion dollar plan aimed at fighting the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.
PEPFAR is one of George W. Bush's rare accomplishments. As of September 2008, it had supported care for more than 10.1 million people affected by HIV/AIDS worldwide; provided anti-retroviral treatment for 2.1 million men, women and children; and contributed to a reduction in mortality rates in PEPFAR's 15 focus countries. Unlike other Bush policies, PEPFAR garnered support from both Democrats and Republicans. This past July, Congress reauthorized it, approving expenditures of up to $48 billion over the next five years.
A new Global AIDS Coordinator can make real change in the field of HIV/AIDS health care delivery. Despite PEPFAR's successes, its outcomes have been inhibited by conservative ideology. All organizations granted money by PEPFAR are urged to use at least half of the funds devoted to prevention for abstinence-based prevention campaigns. Any organization doing spending less on abstinence is required to justify itself to Congress. PEPFAR also requires that all organizations receiving funds explicitly oppose sex work, which precludes the possibility of successful prevention and treatment campaigns in this already marginalized high-risk population.
Dr. Jim Kim can turn that around, and more. The chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at the Harvard Medical School, he is leading an initiative focusing on the science of health care delivery -- discovering which practices work and which don't, with a focus on poor communities. His whole career has been about improving health services for the poor. With Dr. Paul Farmer, he co-founded Partners in Health, a nonprofit that focuses on providing health care services to poor communities in Haiti, Rwanda, Russia, Peru, Malawi, Lesotho, and the United States. Dr. Kim has served as the director of the World Health Organization's HIV/AIDS department, spearheading the "3 x 5" initiative aimed at providing AIDS treatment for three million people by 2005.
Jim Kim is unwilling to settle for the current inefficient foreign assistance mechanisms. In a Congressional briefing on the United States' role in combating the global AIDS epidemic, he outlined what he termed a "Marshall Plan for Africa," emphasizing the importance of efficient and carefully planned investment in a fight to eradicate extreme poverty in Africa.
In his inaugural address, President Obama acknowledged that "the world has changed, and we must change with it." Jim Kim understands what that means for health care delivery. Rumor has it that Dr. Kim is on the short list for Global AIDS Coordinator and is also under consideration for the Director of USAID. Whichever position, Dr. Kim possesses the experience and the vision to make that change a reality. President Obama, Secretary Clinton: you need to meet this extraordinary leader.
Follow Isabel Kaplan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/isabelkaplan