NEW YORK, United States of America, 28 November 2012 – An AIDS-free generation, once seemingly impossible, is at last within reach. And on this year’s World AIDS Day, observed on 1 December, we gratefully acknowledge that we have come this far, in large part, because of women in the developing world.
|UNICEF Chief of HIV and AIDS Craig McClure discusses progress made in fighting HIV/AIDS. Watch in RealPlayer|
Some are doctors, nurses and health workers. Others walk miles to reach a clinic that can protect their babies from HIV. They are advocates and activists. They are grandmothers who take in grandchildren when their own children have died of AIDS. They make laws and policies to protect families touched by the epidemic.
They save lives, and they defend life.
For three decades, they have borne some of the epidemic’s heaviest burdens with strength, resilience and compassion. When we talk about progress, we do so with them in mind.
To begin to end the epidemic, starting with children is key to achieving an AIDS-free generation – through an intervention known as ‘prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV’, or PMTCT.
“A new generation free of HIV, free of AIDS, must begin with children,” says UNICEF Chief of HIV and AIDS Craig McClure.
PMTCT has brought remarkable results. According to a new UNAIDS report, 330,000 children were newly infected with HIV in 2011.
|Janet Banda, a volunteer with an infectious disease research centre in Lusaka, Zambia, visits Lesipo Skalula. Ms. Skalula is HIV-positive and may also have tuberculosis. Ms. Banda is also HIV-positive, and has lost her husband and four of her children to AIDS.|
“That’s 330,000 too many,” says Mr. McClure. “But, even compared to 2009, two years before, when 430,000 children were infected, we’ve seen a 24 per cent drop. The decline is dramatic.”
Facing a deadline
The world has committed to eliminating new infections in children by 2015. To achieve that goal, great progress is needed, and quickly.
In 2011, for instance, only 57 per cent of the estimated 1.5 million pregnant women living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries received effective antiretroviral medicines for PMTCT. That’s a significant increase – but we still have far to go.
Mr. McClure is encouraged by the progress he sees, by an enthusiasm he describes as palpable – and by the possibilities raised through innovation.
“If we continue on course,” he says, “and we make the sort of programmatic innovations that need to happen, we certainly can eliminate new infections in children by 2015.”
Change for the better
Innovation and simplification are among the qualities needed to accelerate progress against HIV for babies, children, adolescents and young people. One of UNICEF’s key goals is to reach those not yet reached.
|UNICEF Chief of HIV and AIDS Craig McClure, shown here speaking at the first regular session of the 2012 UNICEF Executive Board with UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake behind him, says, “A new generation free of HIV, free of AIDS, must begin with children.”|
“We still have enormous amounts of work to do, in relation, for example, to the most marginalized communities that are affected in many countries in the world,” says Mr. McClure.
Some may be missing out on care because of poverty, distance from services or challenges related to the quality of services available.
Others are excluded by their own societies, including sex workers, injecting drug users and men who have sex with men.
“These are difficult populations to reach,” says Mr. McClure, “and really require efforts beyond the health sector, that focus on protection of human rights.”
Bringing these communities the same care, treatment, protection and support others enjoy – achieving equity – is a fundamental UNICEF goal.
“It really is the equity agenda that’s the unfinished business,” says Mr. McClure, “making sure that everyone has access to these tools.”
As we observe World AIDS Day this week, we are poised to confront the unfinished business that needs to be addressed to achieve an AIDS-free generation.