Try out the new Website!
Try out the new Website!

Now is the time for leadership, commitment, and impact

Since 2009, there is 60 percent decline in new HIV infections among children in the 21 sub-Saharan African countries that are most affected by the epidemic, writes Peter Vrooman.

Thirty Five years ago, the lives of millions of people around the globe changed forever with the appearance of a report of five previously healthy individuals in Los Angeles diagnosed with what soon would be known as AIDS. One year later the first case of AIDS was reported in Africa.

Since then, in the United States and around the world, we have made tremendous progress in addressing HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia and around the world with far greater urgency and action. In the 1980s a person infected with HIV rarely survived more than a year after an AIDS diagnosis. Today, antiretroviral therapy offers someone with HIV a nearly normal lifespan if they start treatment early and adhere to it.

In Ethiopia, the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) directly supports life-saving antiretroviral treatment (ART) for nearly 400,000 men, women, and children.  Over one million people are receiving care and support programs, including over 500,000 orphans and vulnerable children. This year PEPFAR’s efforts are focusing on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission - nearly 15,000 mothers have received antiretroviral prophylaxis that greatly increases the chance that their babies will be born HIV-free.

Since 2009, there is 60 percent decline in new HIV infections among children in the 21 sub-Saharan African countries that are most affected by the epidemic. Yet, new infections among adults remain unacceptably high, with 2.1 million new cases reported last year alone.

In the US and around the globe we have made great gains for some, but not all. We have not made nearly as much progress in ensuring respect for all persons living with HIV, in ensuring the protection of their human rights, preventing discrimination, and enabling legal and policy environments that support the deliverer of quality HIV treatment and prevention services for all. As a result, the populations facing the greatest risk of HIV infection are being further left behind and pushed into the shadows.

The US government’s commitment to ending the AIDS epidemic cannot be overstated. We are invested with our voices, our capacity, and our dollars. PEPFAR represents the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in history.

Through PEPFAR, the U.S. government invested over USD 70 billion globally including USD two billion in Ethiopia to support the HIV/AIDS response.

The US government supports both bilateral and multilateral approaches toward achieving an AIDS- free generation. To date, we have invested more than USD 13 billion in the Global Fund. The Global Fund is a US initiative that helps maximize the impact and efficiency of our investments through PEPFAR and UNAIDS through strategic deployment of those resources. PEPFAR and the Global Fund are more aligned, interdependent, and interconnected than ever before and we have dramatically increased efficiency, allowing us to save and improve more lives.

We have a narrow window to change the trajectory of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and reach the UNAIDS ’90-90-90’ targets (90 percent of people with HIV diagnosed, 90 percent of those diagnosed receive Anti-retroviral Therapy [ART], and 90 percent of those on ART achieve “virally suppressed” status (Suppression of function and replication of the virus).by 2020. We must seize this opportunity to put Ethiopia on the path toward ending its AIDS epidemic by 2030.

The US government is firmly focused on five priorities in order to take advantage of this critical window for decisive action:

  • Using data-driven decision making to  accelerate toward the 90-90-90 targets and help countries achieve epidemic control
  • Empowering adolescent girls and women and supporting gender equality, to improve reduce infection rates in this vulnerable group.
  • Standing with and for key at-risk populations, and leaving no one behind.
  • Delivering on our commitment to ensure all children receive ART.
  • Strengthening sustainability and partnerships through transparency and accountability in our programs.

Achieving an AIDS-free generation in Ethiopia, in which no one is left behind, is possible, but it will not happen automatically or easily. We must come together with leadership, commitment, and a focus on impact to make it a reality.

Ed.’s Note: Peter Vrooman is Charge D’ Affairs, Embassy of the United States of America, Addis Ababa. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. The article is provided to The Reporter by the US Embassy.