Getting to Zero

By Chip Lyons | September 30, 2013

EGPAF CEO Chip Lyons in Kenya

Georgina Goodwin/Kenya

This blog was orignally posted on the Huffington Post's IMPACT blog on Friday September 27th, you can read that post here

Earlier this week from the 2013 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), I tweeted: #2030NOW means #GettingtoZero: Zero new #HIV infections. Zero #AIDS-related deaths. Zero stigma. Not only is getting to zero new HIV infections entirely possible, recent signs of progress indicate that it is more likely than ever.

Across the world, the rate of AIDS infection is declining. In June, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) announced that 13 new countries had reached the programmatic "tipping point" in the fight against HIV/AIDS -- meaning more people are now on treatment than are newly infected. The rate of children born HIV-positive today is 52 percent lower than it was in 2001, according to a report issued this week by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). And governments are stepping up to provide much-needed funding. On Monday, the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID) pledged £1 billion to replenish the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria on condition that other countries agreed to follow suit.

Taken as a whole, this progress indicates that we are well on our way of achieving the AIDS-free generation we've been fighting for during the past three decades. I applaud this recent headway and the work being done now to develop new goals and criteria for the post-2015 agenda, but that doesn't mean we can ignore the goals laid out for 2015 that still have not been met. The Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) are set to conclude in 2015, and one of those goals was to halt the spread of AIDS and provide universal access to HIV treatment for all those who need it. These last 1,000 days will prove to be a pivotal time in navigating the remaining hurdles in newly creative and strategic ways -- hurdles that include weak health care infrastructure, ongoing stigma, and a growing sense among many that AIDS has been "solved" and the focus should shift to other global health issues.

But the harsh reality is that many of the women and children who need our help are still difficult to reach. Each day, more than 700 babies are born HIV-positive, almost of all whom live in sub-Saharan Africa where HIV/AIDS remains at epidemic levels. And without treatment, more than 80 percent of these children will die by their fifth birthday. Prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) is one of the most effective weapons we have against HIV/AIDS because it stops the virus from reaching the next generation. We have tools available now to offer universal and lifelong access to treatment for HIV-positive mothers and women around the world.

Women are key to achieving zero new infections by 2015. At the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), we work tirelessly to ensure that women and children around the world are able to live longer and healthier lives. By empowering women to protect themselves and their unborn babies through PMTCT and lifelong ART, we can serve a dual purpose of keeping HIV-positive mothers healthy and ensuring they don't pass the virus along to their children. But this effort requires a unified global commitment to prioritize the science, programs, and funding necessary to reach every vulnerable woman and child around the world.

The global health community has come far, but we have a tremendous challenge in front of us. We must ensure that heads of state and other key partners are actively engaged in the effort to get to zero. No one country or organization can do it alone. The commitments being made at UNGA are crucial. What's more important still are the decisions and actions taken to realize those goals when leaders get home. A generation free of HIV must be spoken of in the halls of the UN, yet it can only be achieved in the communities of every effected country.

Chip Lyons is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.