The United States and its international partners are preparing to meet in July for the AIDS 2012 conference in Washington, where global leaders will work together toward the goal of eradicating HIV/AIDS worldwide.
“Hope is taking the place of despair,” U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Eric Goosby said June 25 in a briefing at the Brookings Institution, a policy research organization in Washington.
He said tremendous support from the United States, its partner countries and multilateral organizations is “truly putting countries in a stronger position to ensure we can reach the goal we are all committed to: achieving an AIDS-free generation and creating a stronger and more secure world.”
The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), launched in 2003 by then-President George W. Bush, is the largest response mounted by one country against a single disease on record. Goosby said the program has been successful in providing HIV prevention, treatment and care for people around the world since its start.
“PEPFAR’s job is to bring science to the table and pursue dialogue toward responses that are country-owned, science-based and human rights-sensitive,” he said.
Through the program, the United States has directly supported lifesaving anti-retroviral treatment for nearly 4 million people worldwide as of September 2011.
“That’s up from 1.7 million people in 2008, showing continued, rapid expansion even during these tight budget times,” Goosby said.
He said PEPFAR also allowed for HIV testing and counseling for more than 40 million people in 2011 alone, including more than 9 million pregnant women. The program supported drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission for more than 660,000 of those women who tested positive for HIV, allowing approximately 200,000 infants to be born HIV-free.
“These results aren’t just numbers — they are lives saved,” Goosby said, adding that each life saved strengthens families and communities around the world.
He said that just 10 years ago, AIDS was killing off a generation and reversing health gains around the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Hospitals were overwhelmed by the massive volume of dying patients and had little or no access to lifesaving anti-retroviral treatment.
“AIDS threatened the very foundations of society,” Goosby said. “It wiped [out] people in the prime of their lives when they should have been caring for their families. It created millions of orphans unable to attend school without the support provided by their parents.”
Additionally, he said, the disease stalled economic development, leaving countries stuck in the cycle of poverty.
“That, in turn, created societal instability, leading the United Nations Security Council to identify AIDS as a security issue in 2001,” Goosby said. It was then that resources to address the disease began to be mobilized.
“Today, AIDS is no longer a certain death sentence in sub-Saharan Africa,” he said. “By adopting a targeted approach to address one of the most complicated diseases and global health issues in modern history, and then taking it to scale with urgency and commitment in resource-challenged settings, the United States has challenged conventional wisdom on what is really possible.”
Commending PEPFAR’s results-oriented approach, Goosby said the program has strengthened national health systems so they can more effectively meet the needs of all their people, both HIV-positive and HIV-negative.
“Clinics and hospitals that are no longer overwhelmed with dealing with AIDS now have the capacity to address other health issues,” he said. “Beyond that, we have rebuilt hospitals and clinics, increased the quality and numbers of trained health care workers, put in patient information systems, put in quality control laboratories and strengthened our commodity procurement and distribution systems.”
The ambassador said this focused investment has enabled access to basic health care often where little or none existed before.
“PEPFAR has proved that we can take a situation with little hope and turn it around,” he said. “It challenges all of us to raise the bar for what our global programs are expected to achieve.”
Goosby said the July 22-27 AIDS conference will focus on continuing global cooperation in the fight to end HIV/AIDS.
He called on leaders to address using PEPFAR infrastructure to help countries face new and changing health challenges. The ambassador also asked conference participants to take a new look at the importance of country ownership. Additionally, Goosby spoke about the importance of continuing a robust multilateral response to HIV/AIDS through organizations such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the World Health Organization and the United Nations disease program (UNAIDS).
MACKENZIE C. BABB