Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declared the U.S. government's intent to create an "AIDS-free generation." Secretary Clinton outlined a bold plan to reduce new HIV-infections, globally, including the eradication of pediatric HIV by 2015. This new strategy builds upon the success of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the U.S. program that addresses HIV/AIDS in resource-limited settings.
A notable feature of Secretary Clinton's "AIDS-free generation" initiative is to strengthen healthcare systems in sub-Saharan Africa. Clinton stated:
"We know we can't create an AIDS-free generation by dictating solutions from Washington. Our in-country partners -- including governments, NGOs, and faith-based organizations -- need to own and lead their nation's response. So we are working with ministries of health and local organizations to strengthen their health systems so they can take on an even broader range of health problems."
Strengthening African healthcare systems is a view echoed by many eminent voices in the global health community. Last year, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences authored a report entitled: "Preparing for the Future of HIV/AIDS in Africa: A Shared Responsibility." The IOM report recommended the urgent need to increase African healthcare workforce capacity to address the HIV epidemic.
I offer Secretary Clinton a solution to assist African healthcare workforces and ensure the success of the "AIDS-free generation" initiative. Last year, in an editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine, Vanessa Kerry, Sara Auld, and Paul Farmer reintroduced the idea of enacting a Global Health Service Corp (GHSC). The GHSC, comprised of U.S. healthcare professionals, would provide medical education and technical assistance to enhance the healthcare workforces in low-income countries. The GHSC's goal would "go beyond that of filling a human resource void to focus on infrastructure development, knowledge transfer, and capacity building." The GHSC could also offer partial student loan forgiveness for U.S. corps members who engage in service abroad for a specified time period similar to the loan forgiveness offered by the National Health Service Corp.
To address the African healthcare workforce shortage, I encourage Secretary Clinton to adopt the principles of the GHSC. The success of the "AIDS-free generation" initiative depends on the availability of skilled healthcare workers in African resource limited settings. Additionally, the eventual transition from a U.S. to African led HIV/AIDS response requires the U.S. to teach and train healthcare personnel in recipient countries through collaborative partnerships that eventually lead to African ownership of their domestic healthcare needs.
Some may argue that enacting the GHSC, especially in the era of U.S. government austerity measures, is not prudent. However, the funding for the GHSC already exists. In addition to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, PEPFAR's congressional mandate requires the program to "strengthen partner government [healthcare] capacity to lead the response to this epidemic and other health demands." Last year alone, PEPFAR committed over $734 million in healthcare capacity building initiatives.
Global health is the moral litmus test of our time. As Secretary Clinton asserted: "An AIDS-free generation would be one of the greatest gifts the United States could give to our collective future." The U.S. should enact the GHSC to ensure the success and sustainability of the "AIDS-free generation" initiative.
If you are interested in supporting the Global Health Service Corp please sign the petition to show your support. http://www.globalhealthservicecorps.org/index.php/petition/
Additionally, the Medical Student Section of the American Medical Association is considering a resolution endorsing the GHSC at its 2011 Interim Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana.
In 2005, Anand Reddi was a Fulbright Scholar assisting the Sinikithemba HIV/AIDS clinic at McCord Hospital in Durban, South Africa. Currently, Mr. Reddi is a medical student at the University of Colorado, School of Medicine.