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Susan Smith Ellis Headshot

One Step Closer to Universal AIDS Prevention and Care

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Here's some good news. A report issued this month by the World Health Organization, UNICEF and UNAIDS discussed the world's advance towards the goal of universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services by 2010. Remarkable progress has been made, the report said.

There are now more than 4 million people on antiretroviral treatments; up from 3 million the previous year. Nearly half of all HIV positive pregnant women who need treatment to help prevent the transmission of HIV to their child during birth are now getting it. And, there are more people with access to testing and counseling for HIV than ever before. The greatest progress has been achieved in sub-Saharan Africa.

As the CEO of (RED), I'm extremely proud of the progress that has been made and the contributions made by our partners (through the sale of (RED)-branded products) to the Global Fund. To date, through the sale of those (RED)-branded products and some (RED)-sponsored special events, we have generated over $135 million for the Global Fund in less than three years.

But the story behind the numbers is much more profound. On recent trips to both Ghana and Rwanda, where (RED) grant money is at work, I was fortunate to be able to see firsthand the impact that access to lifesaving medicine has. I met with HIV positive mothers who were able to give birth to healthy babies because the medicine given to them during labor prevented the transmission of this deadly virus. I talked with doctors, nurses and other health care providers who spoke of the transformation of their own work. Where once they could offer little hope to someone with AIDS, now they can provide medicine that is transformative.

Credit for the tremendous progress that has been made goes to many, including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, PEPFAR, health workers and NGOs on the ground in countries throughout the world and by African national governments struggling to keep their citizens alive with limited resources.

While we've made progress toward universal access to medication and treatment, there is still plenty of work to do. Nearly 5 million people who need ARV treatment can't access it; half of all HIV positive pregnant women still need access to treatment to help prevent their children from contracting HIV during birth; and the vast majority of people living with HIV are unaware of their infection status because the simply don't have access to HIV testing.

It can cost as little as 40 cents a day to provide ARV treatment to an individual in Africa and just $26 to provide the medicine to help prevent the transmission of HIV from a mother to her unborn child. These are small things that need to happen on a grand scale.

The UN report outlined a path forward that included expanding the availability of HIV testing, more widespread prevention efforts, ensuring timely access and greater adherence to treatment and improving access to these services for women and children. The more money that is made available to the people on the ground, the greater impact they can have. It's that simple.

As I said before, consumers have generated more than $135 million to support the Global Fund's efforts to provide universal access to AIDS prevention, treatment and care in Africa by purchasing (RED)-branded products. This demonstrates the collective power of small actions - of shoppers simply 'choosing (RED)', at no greater cost to them, and becoming part of something that truly saves lives.

The UN Development Goals set forth a challenge to reverse the spread of AIDS by 2015 and to provide universal access to treatment for those with HIV/AIDS by 2010. It's not going to be easy, but it's possible. And we're gaining on it.