Written by Helen Cornman, Senior Prevention Officer, AIDSTAR-One Project
In late June, I was approached by an old friend, Dr. Paul Zeitz, Senior Vice-President of Policy for ACT V, to sign a statement calling for the U.S. government to develop a global AIDS strategy. I trust Paul’s instincts, so I did not hesitate to add my name and pass the statement along to my JSI colleagues. A few weeks later, I and other signers received an invitation from Ambassador Goosby, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, to offer input for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s upcoming speech to the XIX International AIDS Conference. Only then did I realize the potential impact of our act of advocacy.
At the meeting, we began by discussing potential sound bites for Secretary Clinton (I am pleased to say that several were eventually included). Then, Ambassador Goosby turned the tables by asking us to explain—in our own words—why a global AIDS strategy is important. I looked around nervously at my colleagues, but relaxed as I listened to the advocates in the room make their case. They eloquently explained that making a statement to the world about the U.S. position on global HIV implementation would build international confidence in the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief Program (PEPFAR). A global strategy, they pointed out, would also encourage donors and governments to stand behind the international effort to end AIDS now that this once-distant goal finally appears to be attainable. Ambassador Goosby and other representatives of the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC) listened intently.
After the meeting, I was not convinced that a global AIDS strategy would come to fruition. But I was proven wrong a week later when, during her plenary speech at the AIDS conference, Secretary Clinton announced that she had called on OGAC to develop a strategy to attain an AIDS-free generation. Over the next six months, a group of us who had signed the statement met with OGAC and among ourselves to develop recommendations for the document that would become the Blueprint for Creating an AIDS-free Generation.
I had the privilege of being in the room at the State Department when Secretary Clinton unveiled the Blueprint on Thursday, November 29th. She reviewed the five principles of the Blueprint, which recognize, among other issues, the importance of ending stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and key populations such as men who have sex with men, sex workers, and people who inject drugs. She explained how PEPFAR represents our very best science in practice, and closed by affirming that if the United States makes a commitment, we must honor that commitment.
Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, followed Secretary Clinton to emphasize that the Blueprint is not just another hopeful plan but rather a practical and realistic strategy to end AIDS. He pointed out that the four “roadmaps” within the Blueprint— for saving lives, for smart investments, for shared responsibility, and for driving results with science—outline specific action steps and delineate how PEPFAR will implement each step. Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, closed the gathering, praising the Blueprint as a model of collaboration for the benefit of all humanity.
Although it is only one of multiple strategies, commitments, declarations, and policies that have been developed over the 30 years since the epidemic began, the Blueprint for Creating an AIDS-free Generation has inspired me to believe again in the power of activism. It has also moved me to laud the leadership of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who—for years a steadfast and courageous voice for women, children, and stigmatized populations—is not afraid to speak out for those who have traditionally had no voice. And it motivates me to call on our nation, alongside other donors and countries, to step up and commit ourselves to creating an AIDS-free generation.