This interview is the final segment of a four-part series in which experts reflect on the progress made since the groundbreaking AIDS 2000 Conference in Durban and the challenges that remain. The 21st International AIDS Conference was held in Durban, South Africa, July 18-22.
Reflecting on this year’s International AIDS Conference in Durban, which continues to serve as a catalyst for global advocacy and access, what do you hope participants took away from AIDS 2016 to help achieve the global 2030 goals?
AIDS 2016 served as an important moment to celebrate the tremendous progress made in the global HIV/AIDS response and to recognize the substantial work that remains to reach the global goal of ending AIDS by 2030. Achieving this goal means we must reach vulnerable and key populations that are being left behind in the HIV/AIDS response. The theme of AIDS 2016 spoke to that commitment, “Access Equity Rights Now.” Adolescent girls and young women face social and structural drivers that place them at disproportionately higher risk for HIV infection. And we have not made nearly enough progress in ensuring respect for all persons, protection of human rights, zero discrimination, and enabling legal and policy environments to deliver quality HIV treatment and prevention services for all. Far too many people at risk for HIV or in need of treatment are still being pushed into the shadows. AIDS 2016 showed us that an AIDS-free generation is truly within our reach, but we will not get there automatically or easily, and our work is far from done.
What has been the biggest accomplishment in addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic to-date? How do you see PEPFAR’s DREAMS initiative to build off this success to accelerate progress and ensure equitable access through?
Just sixteen years ago, the last time we gathered in Durban, the HIV/AIDS epidemic was a global emergency with 5 million new infections each year and fewer than 700,000 people on treatment. In the midst of that crisis, Nelson Mandela insisted, “History will judge us harshly, if we fail to do so now, and right now.”
The United States and the global community responded to the call. Since 2003, the U.S. government has invested $70 billion in bilateral HIV/AIDS programs, the Global Fund, and tuberculosis programs, including more than $55 billion under President Obama. As a result of these investments and the efforts and investments of many other partners, today, 17 million people are on lifesaving treatment and new HIV infections are down to 2.1 million each year. Since PEPFAR’s creation, global AIDS-related deaths have fallen 43 percent. Working together, we have made great gains, but our work is far from finished.
This is especially true for adolescent girls and young women who account for 75 percent of new infections among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa.
At AIDS 2016, PEPFAR was excited to announce the 56 dynamic winners of the DREAMS Innovation Challenge – an $85 million effort to identify and support innovative ideas to help adolescent girls and young women stay HIV-free. Of the winners, 48 percent have never previously received PEPFAR funding, and 64 percent are small, local community-based organizations. These winners will implement solutions across all 10 DREAMS countries, helping thousands more adolescent girls and young women have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. Girls and women deserve nothing less, and we are committed to walk with them at every step along the road to an AIDS-free generation.
The Innovation Challenge is part of PEPFAR’s broader DREAMS partnership, on which we are collaborating with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Girl Effect, Johnson & Johnson, Gilead Sciences, and ViiV Healthcare, with the goal of reducing new HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women by 40% within the highest-burden areas of 10 sub-Saharan Africa countries by the end of 2017.
What do you see as the top priorities to ensure progress on HIV/AIDS is made in the next 10 years? What partnerships do we need realize the success of these priorities?
The United States government’s commitment to ending the AIDS epidemic cannot be overstated. We have invested with our voices, our capacity, and our dollars. Through the contributions and partnerships of the U.S. government, the UN family, the Global Fund, the private sector, the faith community, civil society, and other partners we are closer than ever to ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030, as set out in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We have the tools and the data to deliver on this promise, but we must come together as a global community, with urgency, focus, and determination to make it a reality.
For PEPFAR, five key priorities are:
- Meeting President Obama’s bold HIV prevention and treatment targets for 2016 and 2017.
- Investing in adolescent girls and young women.
- Standing with and for key populations.
- Delivering on our commitment to children.
- Strengthening and investing in civil society and community leadership and capacity.
Civil society partnerships continue to play a particularly critical role in ensuring HIV/AIDS programs are tailored to the unique needs of the communities and individuals that we serve, and in breaking down the stigma and discrimination that too often acts as a barrier to prevention, treatment, and care services. When any member of a community is stigmatized, or unable to access services due to discrimination, the health and human dignity of everyone in that community are threatened. We will only end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 if no one is left behind.
The private sector also has an absolutely vital role to play, not only through financial contributions but also by taking advantage of its other unique assets. Over the years, we have seen the tremendous benefits of leveraging private sector know-how and expertise firsthand through the many public-private partnerships that PEPFAR has formed. These contributions are more important than ever as we seek to end the epidemic by 2030.
Additional interviews in the series:
- Bill Roedy, MTV Networks International, Former President (ret.); Board Director and Co-Founder, GBCHealth
Ambassador-at-Large Deborah L. Birx, M.D., U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator & U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy
As the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, Ambassador Birx oversees the implementation of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in history, as well as all U.S. Government engagement with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Serving as the U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy, she aligns the U.S. Government’s diplomacy with foreign assistance programs that address global health challenges and accelerate progress toward: achieving an AIDS-free generation; ending preventable child and maternal deaths; and preventing, detecting, and responding to infectious disease threats.