World AIDS Day 25 years on: Time to finish the job

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As he marked the 25th World AIDS Day today, President Obama committed to match contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria with $1 U.S. dollar for every $2 from other donors, up to $5 billion over the next three years. Combined with the international resources it is bound to help secure, this U.S. commitment will help save millions of lives.

The president’s announcement moves the world one step closer to the much-heralded promise of an AIDS-free generation. We have a chance to finish the job—if we’re up for it.

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This week the U.S. is hosting a once-every-three-years pledging conference for the Global Fund, the world’s largest financier of public health. Funding commitments made there will set the stage for our future success against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. With the U.S. match, the Global Fund will receive its highest level of investment to-date, and leverage U.S. resources 2:1.

Bipartisan U.S. Congressional and Administration leadership has already helped the Global Fund make incredible headway against these diseases. Thanks in large part to the Global Fund and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), lifesaving HIV/AIDS treatment in low- and middle-income countries has increased more than twenty-fold in a decade. Investments by the Global Fund and others have also driven down malaria deaths in Africa by a third and allowed countries to detect and treat more than 11 million cases of TB.

The progress is staggering. Today we’re no longer just talking about providing hope in the face of these epidemics. We’re talking about defeating them.

We’ve learned that antiretroviral therapy can not only save the life of a person with HIV, but also prevent HIV’s spread. An innovative tool, GeneXpert, now diagnoses drug-resistant tuberculosis in a matter of hours, down from several weeks. And new TB drugs and vaccines are under development, as is a potential malaria vaccine, which we may see as soon as 2015. With the adequate funding, experts believe we can use these advances and others to ratchet down the epidemics, effectively removing them as public health threats in our lifetime.

At this week’s Global Fund pledging conference, world leaders will help make this vision a reality. Resources raised now will pave the way for defeating the epidemics – an opportunity and a challenge that will define our generation. If we were to miss this chance, not only would we lose lives and squander our progress, but also risk rebounding infection rates, growing drug resistance, and the epidemics outpacing the science to combat them.

Both that risk and that opportunity are why what happens this week is so important. And why this week must be the starting point and not the end of this process. The U.S. match will help ensure this, encouraging some key donor governments and potential new donors to pledge even more ambitiously, so as to not, as President Obama put it, “leave our money on the table.” This match will also encourage ongoing private sector contributions, which still only represent a fraction of what is possible. Similarly, while worldwide domestic financing for health has now surpassed donor investments, there is still real room for growth.

The United States has shown important leadership, both through its own contributions to the Global Fund and by rallying support from others around the world. Last month, Congress passed legislation renewing our commitment to PEPFAR, reaffirming that saving lives is indeed a bipartisan issue. Today, President Obama announced he will sign the PEPFAR Stewardship and Oversight Act into law. But there is still more we can do.

The administration can continue to lead the world by putting more people on treatment through PEPFAR and by expanding its work addressing HIV co-infection with tuberculosis, the leading cause of death among people with AIDS. And all of us can work together to make sure the world maximizes the U.S. commitment to the Global Fund. The U.S. match has already played an enormous role in unlocking significant financing globally. The president’s announcement ensures this match will continue to pay life-saving dividends in this fight.

What we do this week—and in the years ahead—can help put us on the path to a future safe from these epidemics. There is not time to lose.

Carter is the executive director of RESULTS. She is the vice-chair of the Stop TB partnership board, and a former board member of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

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