President Obama, Will You Heed Archbishop Tutu's Call to Action?

Are we confident that U.S. leadership on HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis will acknowledge the evidence about what is possible and rise to this challenge? Will President Obama heed Archbishop Tutu's call to action and do his part to end AIDS?
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Archbishop Desmond Tutu often speaks eloquently about what is possible.

Recently, he stuck to the facts.

In Tutu's op-ed in the Washington Post 'An end to AIDS is within our reach,' he called on the Obama Administration to demonstrate leadership to end AIDS by increasing PEPFAR's (the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) treatment goal from 4 million to 6 million people by 2013. Tutu also called on Obama to stand up and 'issue a challenge to other leaders -- of donor nations and those countries most affected by HIV/AIDS -- to scale up their contributions.'

The conversation about AIDS has fundamentally changed. In June the Lancet noted that we are seeing a 'strategic revolution in HIV and global health.' This followed research in May which electrified the HIV/AIDS community by demonstrating that treatment as a prevention strategy reduces the chance of passing HIV to an uninfected sexual partner by 96 percent.

A strategic revolution is the very best kind -- the most important recent work guiding us to the end of AIDS is research on a financing strategy which clearly demonstrates that making investments now would avert 12.2 million new HIV infections and 7.4 million deaths in less than ten years and critically that 'the additional investment proposed would be largely offset from savings in treatment costs alone.'

Invest now, save millions of lives, protect millions of families and save millions of dollars. A solid deal.

The day after Tutu's op-ed, International AIDS conference organizers announced the theme of the July 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington DC: 'Turning The Tide Together.'

In their press release sharing the theme, conference organizers assert that 'By acting decisively on recent scientific advances in HIV treatment and biomedical prevention, the momentum for a cure, and the continuing evidence of the ability to scale-up key interventions in the most-needed settings, we now have the potential to change the course of HIV and AIDS.'

We are fundamentally in a different place. We can see an end to a disease that has killed 30 million people and infected 30 million more. We can see an end to a disease that has destroyed families, overwhelmed health systems and devastated economies.

All the facts show that this is the time to ramp up efforts, not slow down. Besides reducing the spread of HIV, antiretroviral therapy dramatically reduces the chance of a person who is living with AIDS developing and dying from active tuberculosis (TB), a curable disease that kills 1 in 4 people with HIV. The Stop TB Partnership estimates that an additional 1 million lives could be saved by 2015 by treating and preventing TB among people with HIV.

Eight years ago, then-President George W. Bush took a crucial step by establishing PEPFAR and promising 15 billion dollars over 5 years, which supported treatment for 2.1 million people. It has been described as the 'largest and most successful bilateral HIV/AIDS program ever.'

While campaigning, President Obama promised to expand PEPFAR 'by $1 billion a year in new money over the next five years' and provide $50 billion by 2013 to fight HIV/AIDS worldwide. We are not on track to see even those promises become reality. We are not on track for the leadership to change the course of HIV and AIDS that Tutu has called for.

As we look forward to the first U.S.-based International AIDS conference in July 2012, the end of a global public health nightmare is within our reach. Are we confident that U.S. leadership on HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis will acknowledge the evidence about what is possible and rise to this challenge? Will President Obama heed Archbishop Tutu's call to action and do his part to end AIDS?

Kolleen Bouchane is the director of ACTION (Advocacy to Control TB Internationally), an international partnership of civil society advocates working to mobilize resources to treat and prevent the spread of tuberculosis (TB), a global disease that kills one person every 20 seconds.

This post has been modified since its original publication.

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