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HIV/AIDS Medicine Is Only One Piece of the Puzzle

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Sometimes you have to look back to see how far you've come. An article in Bloomberg Businessweek -- -- 'AIDS Drugs Flow to the Third World' -- reports on new ways HIV/AIDS drugs are being manufactured and distributed in developing countries. It's a remarkable story.

In 2002, antiretroviral (ARV) medicine cost between $10,000 -- $15,000 per person a year. Today, in sub-Saharan Africa, the cost of that same medicine for each person, according to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, is around $150 a year, which breaks down to approximately 40 cents a day.

The fact that the medication is only 40 cents a day in developing countries is a stunning accomplishment. Thanks to organizations like the Clinton Foundation, PEPFAR and the Gates Foundation, all of which have worked tirelessly to lower the cost of ARVs, we now have made real progress towards getting the 33 million people (worldwide) who have HIV the medicine they need. In 2002 only 50,000 people in Africa were on ARVs. Today that number is four million. The world is a much better place because of these organizations and initiatives.

Medicine is only one piece of the puzzle. Successful treatment for HIV/AIDS requires education, care, support, food and nutrition, as well as medication. For example, with food and nutritional support, the ARV drugs taken to treat HIV/AIDS, are likely to be significantly more effective. And programs to provide treatment and care go hand in hand with prevention.

At (RED) one of our key objectives is to communicate the message that AIDS is preventable and treatable. We produced a documentary that aired on HBO, Channel 4 (in the UK) and on YouTube titled 'The Lazarus Effect' to show that if people with HIV/AIDS can get access to the medicine they need, they can regain their health and live a productive life. We also created a Public Service Ad campaign to support the film that highlighted the affordability of anti-retroviral medicine.

ARVs are just one aspect of this complex issue, so why did we concentrate on showcasing its affordability? To quote my friend and colleague, Michel Kazatchkine, Executive Director, the Global Fund: "It is true that many factors are important in ensuring that people are able to live healthy lives despite an HIV infection, including good nutrition and proper care. But the one that has revolutionized the fight against AIDS is the reduction in the price of antiretroviral drugs."

2010 is a critical year. There already have been a couple of breakthroughs. In March, the Global Fund, announced that the elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS by 2015 is within reach. For the first time since the AIDS epidemic began in the 1980s, it is possible to imagine an AIDS-free generation. At last month's International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Salim Abdool Karim announced that a new vaginal gel reduced the risk of sexual transmission of HIV to women. This is an important breakthrough.

In September, the United Nations will meet to discuss the Millennium Development Goals. In October, the Global Fund seeks replenishment funding for its programs. We are, truly, at a turning point. It will take the collective power of governments, foundations, NGOs and the private sector to keep this global effort alive. (RED) and the global brands with whom we partner remain committed to amplifying the urgency of the effort and the moral power of its success.

You can watch 'The Lazarus Effect' on YouTube.