I was still using coloring books when the first HIV/AIDS activists hit the streets. I knew about Ryan White and the discrimination in the U.S. from misinformation, fear and prejudice. But I had no idea then the devastation that AIDS would cause around the world, the lives it would take, the orphans it would create, the communities it would crush.
I also didn't know how much I would learn from HIV and AIDS, and from people who live with it. Over the years I've had the privilege of meeting and learning from many people who have fought HIV in their own bodies, in their families and in their communities. Many of these people have taken their fight to the streets and to the highest levels of government in their own countries and around the world.
These are visionaries who have created everything from local support groups, to the revolutionary Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. They are people who do not take no for an answer. They do not accept that access to a healthy life is something for some and not for others.
They are researchers, medical professionals, social workers, activists, politicians, and community leaders. Among them is the world's head banker, Dr. Jim Kim, President of the World Bank Group. Dr. Kim is renowned not only for his pioneering, rights-based health care work for Partners in Health, but for being one of the driving forces behind the "3 by 5" Initiative -- a global push to provide 3 million people living with HIV/AIDS with antiretroviral treatment (ART) by the end of 2005.
"3 by 5" catalyzed international momentum to make sure that every person in need of ART has it, no matter where they live or what place they hold in society. It's a goal we're still fighting to reach.
Toward that end, on July 24, ACTION will join other activists who will march in the streets of Washington, DC and deliver a call to action. At the top of of these demands are a call that the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) reach 6 million people with ART by 2013 and that a plan is advanced that reaches 15 million people globally with ART by 2015.
And rightly so.
Because here's what we all know: ending the suffering from AIDS is possible in our lifetime. To know it's possible, one need only to see how the investment and the life-saving treatments and drugs that followed it, have stalled a once booming coffin making business in Southern Africa.
Against this hope lies reality. Millions will still die from AIDS and its evil twin, tuberculosis, which kills one in four people living with HIV. They will die because they not only lack the testing and treatment they need, but because they lack even basic health services. Against this backdrop, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was forced to cancel its 11th round of funding at the end of last year, highlighting how quickly progress can stall.
This week, thousands will come to DC to call on world leaders to do more. As I look to my own leaders to continue their leadership on the Global Fund, I will also look to my left and my right -- to those leaders who have been in the streets since before I could even drive.
Saving lives by speaking out.
As Jim Kim said in his 2004 International AIDS Conference address in Bangkok, 'Amidst our anger and frustration, let us also remember the leaders who have brought us to where we are today.'
I humbly join them. I am sure you will be there in spirit too.
Kolleen Bouchane is the Director of ACTION, a global partnership of advocacy organizations working to influence policy and mobilize resources to fight diseases of poverty and improve equitable access to health services. ACTION's current focus issues are tuberculosis (TB) -- the leading killer of people with HIV/AIDS -- and increasing equitable access to childhood vaccines.