2012 Highlights: A look back in our work to end AIDS

Photo caption: HIV-positive mom Fortunata Kasege and her HIV-negative daughter Florida are proof that we can end the AIDS epidemic in our lifetime. 

ONE’s policy team looks back at the fight against AIDS in 2012 and what we’ll need to achieve in the coming year to see the end of AIDS in our lifetime.

It’s a wrap! This year is coming to an end, and now it’s time to take stock of the previous 12 months. Having started at ONE in January, it has been a truly rewarding experience to work an entire year at such a passionate and hard-hitting organization. A lot of my first year has been spent focused on HIV/AIDS, and as I reflect on 2012, I’ve realized that though the fight against the AIDS epidemic has seen tremendous progress in the past few years, we still have a lot of work to do. So, here’s my recap of a few big moments in 2012 that both inspire me and remind me of the long journey ahead.

In July 2012, the International AIDS Conference (IAC) returned to the United States for the first time in more than 20 years. Held in Washington, D.C., the conference hosted more than 20,000 AIDS activists, scientists and advocates for a week of plenaries, panels, speaker sessions, workshops and much more. My colleague Erin and I were able to attend the conference (you can read our daily dispatches here on ONE’s Stories page), and we were particularly excited to see President Hollande deliver a message on ending AIDS in one of his first major post-election statements. Indeed, the prevailing catchphrase, repeated again and again by countless speakers, was that the world is approaching the beginning of the end of AIDS—that the vision set out by President Obama last year on World AIDS Day 2011 could in fact become a reality. Whether this was an aspirational goal or just a distraction was up for debate throughout the conference. Moreover, it was unclear from the speakers how exactly we are supposed to get there.

Here at ONE, we do believe that the beginning of the end of AIDS is attainable. But for us, this vision refers to a very specific moment: the critical juncture when the number of new HIV infections drops below the number of people newly added to antiretroviral treatment. When these two curves finally cross, we believe the end of the AIDS epidemic will be in sight. For more information on our thinking on the beginning of the end of AIDS, read our full policy pitch here.

To follow up on our World AIDS Day event from last year, we decided to write a report looking at progress on fighting the AIDS epidemics as well as commitments that donor governments have made toward ending the AIDS epidemic. So, in the months following the IAC, our team conducted a lot of research into these very issues: monitoring specific HIV indicators (mother-to-child transmission, ARV treatment and new HIV infections); tracking financial, strategic and political commitments by the G7 donor countries; reviewing Global Fund contributions and domestic contributions by African countries; and highlighting case studies in the faith and private sectors and among the BRICS.

The sum total of these activities, as indicated in our report, still leaves us lagging behind. The beginning of the end of AIDS, as we defined it, would not be achieved until about 2022 at current trajectories. In the report, we also propose an accelerated course of action which may get us to the target by 2015, but the key point is that what we are doing now is not enough. Our report reinforces that there is a significant funding gap between current AIDS spending and the $22-24 billion required annually to effectively fight the epidemic (UNAIDS 2011). Progress against the disease not only requires financial resources but also strategic, evidence-based policy. The publication of the PEPFAR Blueprint in December 2012 is a welcome milestone, but greater resources and more concerted action will be needed, both in the US and globally, in order to truly accelerate progress.

Looking back over 2012, I have mixed feelings about the direction we’re headed in. On the one hand, both the International AIDS Conference and our work on the AIDS report are stark reminders of where we stand. With 2.5 million people newly infected with HIV (including 330,000 children), 1.7 million annual AIDS-related deaths, more than 7 million people still needing antiretroviral treatment, and a daunting gap in funding and political will, the outlook may still look bleak.

But, I can’t hope but feel invigorated for the coming year, knowing that all around the globe, ordinary people and their governments are indeed mobilizing for the fight, sprinting towards the finish line. Earlier this year, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria marked its 10th anniversary, having supported 4.2 million people on antiretroviral treatment to date. We are proud to see our partners at (RED) achieve $200 million in total contributions to the Global Fund. The African Union has adopted a “Roadmap on Shared Responsibility and Global Solidarity” for responding to the three major diseases. And millions of ONE members like you inspire us to continue this fight anew in the coming year. I’m excited to see what we can achieve next.

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