An AIDS-free Generation is Within Reach

December 3, 2014 By Zach Silberman

World AIDS Day, December 1, bore additional significance this year, since it arrived just one month before the deadline to reach the Millennium Development Goals. The MDGs, established in 2000, are designed to meet the needs of the world’s poorest by 2015 – one of which is to halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS.

With the debate about the post-2015 UN Development Agenda already well underway, World AIDS Day served as a new opportunity to take stock of the last 15 years of progress in stamping out AIDS and evaluating our goals for the future.

On Monday, President Barack Obama stated, “We’re closer than we’ve ever been to achieving the extraordinary: an AIDS-free generation,” a goal that was unfathomable 15 years ago. This goal is more attainable than ever due to the commitment of the United States, and the world, to finding innovative ways to eradicate the disease.

The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), started by President George W. Bush and carried on by President Obama, has certainly been a part of the solution. Launched, and later renewed, with bipartisan support in Congress, PEPFAR administered life-saving antiretroviral treatment for 6.7 million men, women, and children worldwide in 2013 alone. Additionally, PEPFAR supported testing and counseling for more than 12.8 million pregnant women, while more than 1 million babies have been born HIV-free in the last two years. As Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Deborah Birx has reported, “the number of new infections is down by 50 percent in sub-Saharan Africa from the peak in the late ‘90s.”

While this offers encouragement, there is still more work to be done to reach the set targets. The most recent MDG progress report noted there are still too many new cases of HIV infections spreading throughout the world.

This is why the next global development agenda will need to keep the focus on ensuring healthy lives. One of the sub-goals will be to continue reducing the burden from diseases like HIV/AIDS. But how do we get there?

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) is coordinating a fast-track approach to eradicate the disease by 2030. This will start with ambitious goals to be reached by 2020. By then, the program aims to ensure that 90 percent of all people living with HIV will know their status, 90 percent of those diagnosed will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy, and 90 percent of those receiving that therapy will have suppressed the virus.

Innovative ideas remain crucial. Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson has called for using “data on geographic regions where infections are concentrated,” which is allowing scientists to shrink the epidemic map and give the global community the capabilities to make the greatest difference.

The world has already done more than ever expected by focusing the MDGs on ending HIV/AIDS. As we approach 2015 and the next 15 years of global development goals, an AIDS-free generation does not seem as far off as it once did.

USGLC Intern Lindsay Markle contributed to this blog.