15 million people on HIV treatment, new infections down by 35%, and the number of people who have died because of AIDS decreased by over 40%: powerful and moving. These were ambitious targets set within the Millennium Development Goals (MDG 6) fifteen years ago. Yesterday (July 14th), UNAIDS reported that each of these goals has been met or exceeded. John Snow, Inc. (JSI) joins UNAIDS and the rest of the global HIV community in celebrating these stunning successes.
This achievement has been no small task. Many thought these targets were aspirational, not attainable. But those of us who have worked and struggled in the battle against this epidemic for over thirty years knew that with the right tools, used in the right places, and with proper systems and supports in place, these goals could be a reality.
The key to our successes, JSI’s and the rest of the HIV community, has been the continued and unwavering investment in people—from community leaders and health workers, to nurses, physicians and lab techs, all the way to the representatives in the highest levels of government. Today there are leaders at every level of the health and social support system who contribute on a daily basis to the fight against HIV. They are poised to take the response to even greater scale by addressing the barriers and social norms that enable HIV to spread and prevent access to life saving care. They are increasing the availability of respectful HIV care that engages individuals and families in long-term treatment.
The continuing progress made by the global community in the fight against HIV has been supported by the visionary leadership of national champions and that of international leaders, particularly the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM), and UNAIDS. Working together, we have brought innovation and best practices rapidly to scale, impacting and saving millions of lives.
At JSI, we are thrilled to have contributed to this success through global leadership programs, such as the SCMS Project, AIDSstar-One and AIDSFree, as well as country support programs in Central America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Led by dedicated and highly motivated HIV, public health, and social service leaders in every country where we work, we have witnessed tremendous growth in technical and managerial capacity that has enabled incredible progress to take place.
I recently had the good fortune to travel to Zambia, where JSI has been working with the government, NGOs, the commercial sector, and traditional and religious leaders for nearly 20 years to respond to the HIV epidemic. The early years were painful and heartbreaking; prevention and palliative care were the order of the day as we had little to offer people in the way of treatment. Funerals were a near daily event. In a few short years, it is amazing to see the transformation. Access to care and the availability of ARVs has changed the trajectory of the lives of over 600,000 Zambians living with HIV. Traditional leaders—chiefs and chieftainesses—are developing community development strategies that address the drivers of the epidemic, reducing the vulnerability of young girls and women and demanding greater accountability from men. Orphans and young mothers are returning to school. HIV workplace programs have expanded to consider greater wellness issues, realizing that people are impacted not only by HIV but by a wide range of health and social issues. Leaders in government, religious bodies, and other influential leaders, such as professional athletes and popular musicians, recognize they have powerful
roles educating people about the importance of HIV and dispelling myths and norms that perpetuate the epidemic. The supply chain system is able to ensure that drugs and HIV products get to the right place, at the right time, in the right quantity. This is an example of just one of the countries in which JSI has worked hand-in-hand with government and donors to achieve sustainable impact. We couldn’t be prouder of those efforts on this day.
As a gay man living with HIV, I take particular pride in UNAIDS’ announcement. Much of the success being heralded has been because of the tireless and fearless advocacy of people living with and those at greatest risk for living with HIV, particularly women, people living with HIV, men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, sex workers, and transgender. Their tireless demands for effective prevention, access to ARV, and respectful care are the cornerstones our work. Without these millions of leaders, many of whom have not lived to benefit from our accomplishments, we would not be where we are today.
As we celebrate our success, let’s not forget that there is still much work to be done. If we are to reach the goals of 90-90-90 by 2020 we have to quickly jump forward, both national programs and the international community, to sustain what has been put in place and go further, faster to stop the epidemic. Complacency is not an option.
Learn more about JSI’s work in HIV