The sense of hope in the room was palpable as leaders from across government gathered at the White House to mark World AIDS Day 2014. Hope may not typically be an emotion associated with the global fight against HIV/AIDS, but the truth is, we are within reach of a goal that not long ago seemed impossible: an AIDS-free generation. It's a tantalizing possibility, but achieving this goal will require continued, sustained investment in human resources for health -- the trained, committed doctors and nurses who are at the heart of any nation's health care system.
That's where the Peace Corps comes in. In a unique public-private partnership, the Peace Corps, Seed Global Health, and the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) worked together to launch the Global Heath Service Partnership, (GHSP) where experienced American doctors and nurses volunteer, through the Peace Corps Response program, to train healthcare workers in countries with critical shortages. In just the first year, 30 GHSP educators contributed over 35,000 hours to reach over 2,800 students, fellow faculty, and other health professionals through teaching in over 85 courses in Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Global Heath Service Partnership volunteers are making transformative change every day, and they are about to get an incredible new wave of support. We are thrilled that at the White House's World AIDS Day event, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the expansion of the GHSP, with additional resources and a new commitment to improve clinical education, expand the base of physician and nursing educators and build healthcare capacity in countries that face critical shortages.
Building up the health care workforce in the countries where we serve is essential to managing and preventing diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria, as well as to ensure functioning health care systems overall. The World Health Organization has reported that Sub-Saharan Africa has the greatest shortage of physicians and nurses, exacerbated by also having one of the highest global burdens of disease. It has 24 percent of the global burden of disease but only three percent of the world's health workforce. For example, in Tanzania, there is only one physician and 24 nurses per 100,000 people.
GHSP volunteers like Dr. Maureen Ries work to combat this enormous healthcare challenge by transferring their skills directly to local health care providers. At a health facility in Tanzania, Dr. Ries worked side-by-side with groups of 10-12 medical students on their six-week OB/GYN rotations. She received an email from one of her students that sums up the powerful multiplier effect of the GHSP. "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle," the student wrote. "You were that candle to us, and I will light another new candle someday!"
As a public health professional who has spent decades working to combat HIV/AIDS in underserved communities, I have seen first-hand how investing in human resources for health can strengthen local health systems, lifting up local doctors and nurses and supporting them as they make sustainable change to combat HIV/AIDS and save lives. This expansion of the Global Health Service Partnership will make a long-term difference as we strive to reach our goal of an AIDS-free generation.
Carrie Hessler-Radelet is the 19th director of the Peace Corps. She served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Western Samoa and comes from a four-generation Peace Corps family.