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Born Without the Burden of HIV

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This week people from around the world will gather in New York City to assess the progress of the Millennium Development Goals.

We are on the verge of a truly momentous development in the realm of global public health -- the emergence of the first generation in almost 30 years where no child is born with HIV. It is possible -- by 2015 -- that we can put an end to mother-to-child-transmission of the virus.

Despite the fact that HIV/AIDS is preventable and treatable, 430,000 children each year -- more than 1,000 a day -- are born with the disease. About 90 percent of these babies are born in sub-Saharan Africa. As many as half will die without treatment by the age of two.

Yet the HIV/AIDS landscape in Africa and the rest of the developing world is far less grim now than it was just a decade ago. UNAids reported last week that 22 countries in Africa had seen a drop in new cases of HIV infections of more than 25 percent. The fall was attributed to greater awareness and preventative measures, UNAids said.

Our organization, (RED), is the largest business sector contributor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. We recently produced a documentary, called The Lazarus Effect, that shows what can happen to someone in the 40-60 days after they get access to treatment. Treatment is no longer prohibitively expensive. Innovation and smart negotiation have driven down the cost of life-saving AIDS medication from between $10-20,000 a year to just $150.

In 2002, only 50,000 people in Africa had access to the anti-retroviral medication needed to keep them alive. Today more than four million people in Africa and five million globally have that access, a staggering result produced by the global health community through smart, targeted spending. Children and adults are living longer, healthier lives. Families are remaining whole.

ARVs are potent weapons, but they are most effective when used to keep babies from contracting HIV in the first place. So the first step is simple: All pregnant women need to be tested for HIV. Those who test positive can immediately be put on an ARV regimen to lower the potency of the virus in their system. Treatment during and after labor helps prevent passage of the virus to a newborn; so, too, does infant feeding guidance, which lessens the chance of transmission via breastfeeding. Collectively, these measures have been shown to block mother-to-child transmission in up to 99 percent of cases.

We'll be much closer to winning the fight against AIDS in Africa and throughout the developing world if we make the necessary commitment of political will and action at this critical juncture. For the first time, we can do more than just imagine a world where no child is born with the horrific burden of HIV/AIDS. By wisely investing and administering the necessary global resources, we can make it happen - in five years. It's imperative that we do so.