Reducing AIDS funding will deal a devastating blow

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According to UNAIDS, the number of AIDS deaths fell for the third year in a row in 2010, and the global rate of new HIV infections has remained level at 2.7 million for the previous four years. This is largely attributable to more people receiving antiretroviral treatment, which has now reached nearly 6.6 million people in low- and middle-income countries.

U.S.-government funded research has demonstrated that early treatment with antiretroviral drugs not only saves lives, but also reduces the chance of spreading HIV by 96 percent. Early treatment decreases tuberculosis infections by 84 percent, as well. This is critical, as tuberculosis is the leading cause of death among people with HIV/AIDS, and accounts for one in four AIDS-related deaths.

Expanding access to antiretroviral treatment alongside other high-impact interventions could avert more than seven million deaths and twelve million new HIV infections by 2020, according to UNAIDS. From there, the end of AIDS may be within reach.

However, this cannot happen without the immediate and unequivocal support of the U.S. Congress. Just last week, the Global Fund announced that it must stop making new grants until 2014, due to dwindling donor support. It admitted that it would struggle just to meet existing commitments.

As one of about 200,000 HIV-positive Malawians – and 3.3 million people worldwide – who depend on antiretroviral treatment from the Global Fund to stay alive, this greatly concerns me.

I was one of the first patients in Malawi to be placed on antiretroviral drugs in 1989. The treatment not only saved my life, but also protected my youngest daughter from becoming infected with HIV through my breast milk. I developed tuberculosis twice, in 1998 and 2001, and beat the disease with drugs provided by the Malawian Government.

Since 2004, I have depended on the Global Fund for safe and affordable antiretroviral treatments. Thanks to availability of these drugs, I have been able to live a healthy and productive life, dedicating myself to raising awareness of HIV.

The American Foundation for AIDS Research recently reported that for every five percent reduction in U.S. funding for global health programs, 182,000 people will not receive HIV/AIDS treatment – people just like me.

With donor support flagging around the world, U.S. leadership is crucial. Congress must fully fund its global health programs, especially the Global Fund. The U.S. has commendably pledged $4 billion to the Global Fund through 2013, but it still owes more than $600 million on previous pledges – and it is in danger of falling further behind.

Together with PEPFAR, America’s flagship AIDS initiative, the Global Fund has put 3.3 million people on antiretroviral treatment, and it has led the integration of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and maternal and child health services in developing countries. Many millions of lives have been saved as a result.

The investments we make now will shape our response to the AIDS pandemic for years to come. They will also determine the fate of millions of people – like me – and our families and communities. At least 34 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, and over a million of them are co-infected with tuberculosis, as I once was. We have the tools to help these people. We need action now.

Joyce Kamwana is a Global Fund “HERE I AM Campaign” Ambassador. She is a proud mother of two healthy girls, and expecting her second grandchild. She lives in Malawi.