AIDS 2012: A time for hope

AIDS 2012 is just a few weeks away. From July 22-27, the world will gather in Washington to take stock of our progress in the fight against AIDS and to recommit to moving forward.

A tremendous amount of attention will be focused on AIDS over the next six weeks — and that’s a great thing. We will be touched by the stories of the courageous men and women who are turning the tide at the grassroots level. We will learn of new scientific advances that bring us closer to the goal, articulated by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, of an AIDS-free generation. We will consider how, in this age of global economic difficulties and tight budgets, the world will find the resources needed.

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In all of this, let’s not lose sight of the big picture: This is a moment of hope. The world has seen a fundamental transformation in the global AIDS outlook over the past decade, with the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria playing leading roles.

In developing countries worldwide, more than 6 million people are alive and well, living healthy and productive lives because they are getting the antiretroviral treatment they need to stay alive. Most of them are in Africa — the continent with the heaviest burden of HIV and the fewest economic resources to deal with it.

There’s more — new HIV infections have dropped sharply over the past decade, and once again, Africa has led the way, with 22 countries experiencing drops in new infections of 25 percent or more. The number of children born with HIV has been dropping steadily, thanks to significant progress in preventing mother-to-child transmission of the virus.

The point is not that it’s time to rest on our laurels — it’s exactly the opposite: now that we have made so much progress, and come so far, we simply must push on and do even more. In short, it’s success that breeds hope. The success we’ve achieved so far is what tells us that we can achieve an AIDS-free generation.

Even with several years of relatively flat budgets, we’ve continued to increase the number of lives we are saving each year. In PEPFAR, for example, with approximately level resources, we’ve been able to increase the number of people supported on treatment from 1.8 million in 2008 to almost 4 million in 2011.

This expansion is continuing, as we move to meet the president’s goal of 6 million on treatment by the end of 2013.

In a nutshell, we’ve gotten smarter in our investments, and that’s enabled us to increase our impact. In my view, we have much more room in which to increase both our impact and efficiency, and we will continue to drive these improvements. Through our intensive, collaborative planning process for PEPFAR country programs, we’ll continue to use the tools we have to ensure that our programs are delivering maximum life-saving impacts. And we’ll continue to work with partner countries and other donors so that all are playing their parts.

It’s all about results, really. Here in the United States, Congress shares this focus on the bottom line. I believe that’s why PEPFAR has been able to maintain bipartisan support for so long, preserving level funding in a difficult budget environment.

At every step of the way since the earliest days of the global AIDS effort a decade ago, many have doubted that success was possible. Now we know. That knowledge should inform us as we recommit to the fight —  with hope.

Goosby is the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator.