Mexico City welcomes over 20,000 visitors and 3,000 members of the media today to convene AIDS 2008, the world's largest HIV forum. Over the next five days we'll hear new scientific research and intense dialogue on the major challenges facing the global response to AIDS. "Universal Action Now" is the theme, but what does that really mean?
"Universal" connotes individual acts as well as collective response, and it implies relevance to all people rather than simply those directly affected. "Action" means do something. And "now" -- now means get on it.
The Mexico City agenda shows the breadth and depth of Universal Action Now. One exciting new aspect in this panorama is the presence of private sector actors. Certainly the medical and pharmaceutical industries have worked on HIV and AIDS for decades, but new leadership from other sectors is helping raise the funds needed to fight the pandemic and deliver life-saving medicine to the 7 million people globally who still lack access to care.
I joined a panel jointly hosted by the Global Fund and the Global Business Coalition, which profiled several new private sector interventions that are successfully scaling-up treatment. My role was to explain the (RED) business model and how (RED) brand partners and (RED) shoppers have together driven $110 million to the Global Fund for programs in Ghana, Rwanda, Swaziland and Lesotho. I noted that 100 % of this money is spent directly on programs in Africa, and emphasized how important it is for a consumer-facing effort like (RED) to connect with and continue inspiring and empowering customers by profiling the women, children and families in Africa whose lives are reclaimed when medicine becomes available. A single act - one individual selecting a (RED) item while shopping - is very much Universal Action Now in motion.
Senior representatives from Nike Foundation, Mac AIDS Fund, Chevron, Standard Chartered Bank, and Levi-Strauss presented other modes of action. Our discussion covered the gambit from cause-related marketing and advocacy initiatives; private sector engagement in the development and governance of national programs; the role played by the business sector in addressing stigma and gender issues; the provision of livelihood opportunities for affected individuals and communities; and the possibilities for sustainable scale-up of treatment through public-private partnership models such as co-investment.
Amazing things are happening and progress is real, but the need remains great. It clear that neither governments nor scientists nor activists alone can turn the tide of AIDS, but collectively - and with the added creativity and market muscle of the private sector - an end to AIDS is achievable. Individually and together, we all have an interest in stopping AIDS around the world. Take action now, in whatever way you can - lobby, donate, shop...even encourage your employer to get engaged. But know that it matters and it's needed and keep it up. RIP HIV.
Tamsin Smith is President of (RED), which engages business and consumer power in the fight against AIDS in Africa. (RED) works with the world's best brands to make unique branded products and direct up to 50% of their gross profits to the Global Fund to invest in HIV and AIDS programs in Africa. Current partners include Converse, Gap, Motorola, Emporio Armani, Apple, Hallmark, Dell, Microsoft and American Express (UK only). Since its launch, (RED) has generated over $110 million for the Global Fund. No overhead is taken; every dollar generated by (RED) consumers is spent in Africa.