04/18/2013 09:48 am ET Updated Jun 18, 2013

Fighting HIV the MTV Way

One thousand days might seem like a lifetime for your typical MTV viewer, living their life from day to day, but it's really not much more than the blink of an eye in the long and exacting struggle against HIV/AIDS.

At the time of writing, that's pretty much the time left to us until the expiry of the millennium development goals -- the eight international development targets agreed unanimously by member states of the United Nations in 2000, including the ambition to "have halted and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS" by the end of 2015.

Thanks in part to the galvanizing effect of a shared aspiration, the HIV landscape is changing. Antiretrovirals have revolutionised treatment, and now prevention, of HIV. Just a few weeks ago the headlines were dominated by news of a functional cure for HIV as a result of early treatment with these drugs. Cautious optimism is resonating throughout the HIV/AIDS world and talk of an "HIV-free generation" has become commonplace. The prevalence of HIV is still rising in some regions, but globally, the number of new HIV infections is on the decline, thanks to an extraordinary global effort.

While our efforts have helped to curb this epidemic, it has also lulled many into a false sense of security. We cannot afford to let our guard down -- complacency costs lives. Instead, we have to double our efforts, especially for those most at-risk.

Young people remain the population most vulnerable to HIV infection, which is why, since 2005, the MTV Staying Alive Foundation has mobilized its resources to protect this group. In 2011, there were around 2.5 million new HIV infections, 42 percent of which were in young people aged between 15 and 24 years.

Despite the impressive armory now available for combating HIV, prevention is still the most cost-effective strategy against this disease. As we all know, prevention is the best cure.
Last year heralded the emergence of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) with antiretroviral drugs for high-risk individuals. News coverage of this development even dared to ask whether this was the beginning of the end of AIDS.

This vision is perhaps premature. Yes, PrEP is effective -- taken properly, this drug regimen can reduce the risk of acquiring HIV by up to 90 percent in mixed-status heterosexual couples -- but it comes with a hefty price tag. In men who have sex with men, for instance, the cost of reducing new HIV infections by 25 percent over 10 years using PrEP would be about $26 billion. The same reduction could be achieved with the humble condom and water-based lubricants for just $134 million. That's 99 percent cheaper.

It's this principle of prevention that guides the MTV Staying Alive Foundation's mission: to stop HIV before it even starts.

We realize the potential of young people to educate and change attitudes around the world. Through our international grants program we invest in ambitious and courageous young leaders who are combating HIV in their communities. Many of these young leaders risk their lives to breakdown the sociocultural barriers that prevent their peers from accessing basic sex education and condoms. Our grantee Queer Alliance, for example, openly speaks about homosexuality and HIV in Nigeria, despite the risk of reprisal due to the fact that homosexuality is illegal in the country.

While our grantees continue the fight against HIV on the ground, we make sure that awareness of HIV is raised at a global level. Using the global reach and youth appeal of the MTV brand, we're producing creative content to challenge misconceptions about HIV and improve sexual health among young people.

Our flagship production, Shuga, does this in true MTV style. Shuga is an award-winning TV series and mass-media campaign, which has reached over 100 million households worldwide. The show fuses sexual health messaging with stories that young people can relate to.

Unfortunately, money, media, and medicine combined are still not enough to stop HIV. We need to create a frenzy. We need to reignite the fervor that propelled the fight against HIV 30 years ago. The world must embrace the idea of an HIV-free generation. Although ambitious, this goal can and must be achieved, if not in 1,000 days then at least within our lifetimes.

Our passionate and innovative young leaders are spearheading this fight on the ground. Now we must all follow their lead.