There is some welcome good news these days in the fight against AIDS. The global community has committed itself to end the transmission of HIV at birth by December 2015, and thereby largely end paediatric AIDS within 15 years.
Part of me says ‘it’s about time!’
After all, in Europe and North America we took this step in the early 1990s. Think about it – if you ask an audience in an industrialized country today whether anyone knows someone who is HIV-positive, most of the audience will raise their hands, indicating they do. If you ask the same audience whether they know a child with HIV, you won’t see any hands.
In the United States, a country of more than 300 million, there were no more than a handful of cases of transmission at birth last year. In the developing world, according to UNICEF, a thousand babies per day were infected last year during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. The situation in the North shows that it can be done; the situation in the South cries out for action.
The calmer, more tactical part of me says, ‘this is a wonderful opportunity to help do some good’.
A strong network of paediatricians, ministers of health, UN and NGO staff, business leaders and civil society activists has come together to mobilize and steer political will, to ensure financing in tough economic times, to help health ministries strengthen their logistics and their reach, and to ensure the ‘handshake’ between government services and community action that will guarantee that HIV-positive pregnant mothers gain awareness of and access to treatment.
It is rare that the international community has a chance to eliminate a health risk entirely, as we did with smallpox and are very close to doing with polio. Such opportunities bear a lot of momentum within them, not only to end the disease but also to build the capacities and experience of all of those who work on them, and to spur efforts to end other causes of poverty as well.
There are many ways that foundations can get involved in this effort, at many levels of investment and coming from many disciplines. These include funding community-based organizations, operations research, business plans for ministries of health and NGOs, product development and grassroots social marketing, domestic advocacy or art and communications work that conveys both the crisis and the promise of solution.
The Coalition on Children Affected by AIDS, the collaborative of private funders and technical experts that I am chair of, would be more than happy to talk with any interested foundations about how they can get involved.