A few weeks ago, German ONE supporters placed 100 large placards, each depicting a set of eyes, in front of the German parliament in Berlin. The message was “Ich Schaue Hin!”(“I am watching!”) to see whether the German government is keeping the promises they made to developing countries.
A similar message was sent in the 1980s, when Bob Geldof – who now works closely with ONE – also encouraged the public to open its eyes. At the time, a vast famine was ravaging the population in Ethiopia. Bob Geldof’s Live Aid initiative and the partnerships built around it, provided a way to mobilize a new generation to look at what was happening in the poorest countries to the most vulnerable people and to act.
In the 1990s and 2000s, HIV/AIDS forced many people all around the world to open their eyes and mobilize to help those in need. The images of emaciated patients and orphaned children helped move individuals and governments to act, all while scientists were motivated to try to find treatment to prevent a further generation from dying.
The successes of health aid – and of domestic policy changes in developing countries themselves – have been immense. Nearly 10 million HIV-positive people globally received anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) in 2012 that allowed them to lead relatively healthy, productive lives and care for their families. The health and well-being of a new generation of children, mothers and families are improving with the introduction of life-saving vaccines, a sufficient focus on nutrition, and the prevention of diseases such as malaria.
But with success can come complacency. As we achieve greater success in global health are we still watching, and are we still aware of what is happening in the lives of the poorest people most in need? Do we – including those of us who work in this “business” of aid – still remember that there is much work left to be done?
When I recently visited Zambia as part of a delegation with (RED)(you can read my blogs about this trip here), I met two HIV-positive women, Constance and Concilia, who were able to stay alive and give birth to HIV-negative children thanks to free ARVs introduced in Zambia in 2003.
To see how far these two women and countries such as Zambia have come thanks to international support and domestic mobilization, you can watch a film produced by (RED) in 2010. The transformation and restoration achieved when an HIV-positive person goes on ARVs is so dramatic that I initially did not recognize one of the women featured in the film, Concilia, when I met her this year, just three years after the film was produced.
As ONE in Germany has importantly highlighted, we need to keep our eyes open. But that isn’t enough: we also need to understand the implications of what we see. A healthy-looking person who is HIV-positive isn’t something we can take for granted or temporarily ignore; his or her health is dependent on life-long ARVs, often provided through international support. We can’t take away our support from these life-saving free drugs now. We owe it to these inspiring people such as Constance and Concilia and their children to keep looking, to keep telling their stories, and to fight to ensure that the next generations can be born and live without HIV and AIDS.