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An End to AIDS: Keep Eyes on the Prize

By Susan Carey Dempsey on December 1, 2011No Comment
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 30:  Workers hang a ...

The landscape on this World AIDS Day is an unlikely constellation formed by a diversity of players, transformative scientific research, and persistent chipping away at seemingly intractable obstacles. Appearing today at George Washington University in Washington D.C., President Barack Obama announced a new $50 million domestic commitment to fight AIDS  - $15 million to Ryan White Centers and $35 million in state aid – as well as a new goal of helping 6 million people get treatment by the end of 2013.

In a press conference to declare that we are witnessing “the Beginning of the End of AIDS,” the American president was joined by satellite by President George Bush, from Tanzania, and President Bill Clinton. President Obama called upon other nations to step up their commitment to achieving this challenging goal.

Musician-activist Bono put his star power to work on this World AIDS Day, heaping praise on the United States for what he called “the greatest heroic act since America jumped into the Second World War,” in media venues from Time Magazine to the Op-Ed page of The New York Times to the ceremonies in Washington.

Michael Elliot, head of ONE,   the organization co-founded by Bono which hosted events to mark the day, declared that while there was hope that we are witnessing the “beginning of the end of AIDS, “ there are still unmet commitments and he vowed “many people will keep this administration’s feet to the fire. “ Speaking with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell today, he declared  “many European  nations are generous funders, but some are having tough time economically, and it’s a challenge for them to follow the lead that the U.S. president established today.”

Nevertheless, African governments, too, are  putting resources to this fight, Elliot pointed out, and this is making a crucial difference. “This is an astonishing AIDS Day, and without diminishing what we still face, science, treatment and all sorts of other streams are leading in the right direction”

The early days of the AIDS crisis were as dark as could be imagined, with no treatment, and communities shunning the victims whose dangerous diseases were frightening.  Deaths were recorded on quilts, as family members and friends mourned those who had fallen. From young hemophiliacs to accomplished artists and talents, no one could be saved. The red ribbon appeared as a symbol of the fight, as activists waged an incredibly daunting battle.

Over the years, a concerted scientific research effort led to advances that could stave off the worst effects of the disease. Unfortunately, such good news only meant a reprieve for those lucky enough to live in parts of the world with access to medicines and the means to afford them.  Across Africa, millions faced death. Generations of AIDS orphans were not only an affront to humanity, but portended a risk to the security and stability of already fragile countries.

The response that grew  - largely in response to persistent activists like Bono – from President George Bush’s robust PEPFAR commitment to President Clinton’s negotiation of lower cost anti-retrovirals, to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s large scale intervention, to the partnerships formed by the Global Fund to  Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, has indeed turned the tide on the AIDS pandemic. An oversized red ribbon hung today outside the White House in declaration of the ongoing commitment of the current administration to the work that has brought the fight this far.

In a time-honored technique that should be the edification of fundraisers everywhere, Bono at once points to the truly great advances that have been achieved, and urges potential supporters not to take their eyes off the prize.  There is plenty of credit to be shared for coming this far, but only a renewed commitment to complete the work will pay proper tribute to those who made it happen. With 30 million human beings already lost to its cruel ravages, shame on us if we don’t defeat this monster once and for all.

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