For the first time, at the beginning of Advent, we are on the threshold of the beginning of the end of AIDS. After 30 years and 30 million funerals, we are finally close to ending senseless deaths from AIDS once and for all. Imagine that: 0 AIDS deaths.
Yesterday was World AIDS Day, where presidents, faith leaders, business leaders, doctors, activists, politicians, and rock stars gathered to declare “the beginning of the end of AIDS.” When it comes to the fight against global AIDS, especially in Africa, we are making incredible progress.
In 2002 only 50,000 Africans were on life-saving AIDS drugs. Because of the leadership of President George W. Bush, starting programs like PEPFAR and the Global Fund, as well as the continued leadership of President Barack Obama in supporting those efforts, that number has increased to 5 million. Think about it, 5 million lives saved because of bold leadership and right decisions in tough times.
The news is hopeful. We have seen both progress and proof:
- New data shows that an HIV-positive person on treatment is 96 percent less likely to pass HIV on to others.
- It only costs, on average, $335 for AIDS treatment through PEPFAR (down nearly 70 percent since 2004!).
- 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have reduced new HIV infections by 25 percent.
- Clinical trials show that voluntary male circumcision reduces the risk of new HIV infection in men by roughly 60 percent.
Yesterday was truly a momentous occasion. Looking at all the progress we have made, especially in the last 10 years, it is a moment for us to not only celebrate, but in the words of President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, “recommit ourselves,” to end the fight against AIDS totally.
So, what about today? What’s next?
There are 9 million HIV positive people, our global neighbors in low- and middle- income countries that are still in need of treatment. More than 390,000 infants and children are infected with HIV each year, and still, nearly two new people are infected for every one person put on treatments. Economic times here and abroad are certainly serious, and some say we should retreat from our current levels of funding in the fight. But cutting effective life-saving programs - that amount to less than 1 percent of the entire U.S. budget - is not an option for those of us committed to life and human flourishing, those of us commitment to loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.
So, this is what we must promise:
- Virtually eliminate mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) and deliver an AIDS-free generation by 2015.
- Accelerate access to treatment for 15 million people by 2015 (last year we added 1.4 million people into treatment, next year we must do even more!).
- Implement innovative prevention techniques to drastically reduce new infections by 2015.
Dr. Patricia Nkansah-Asammoah, who runs one of the most inspiring places on the planet, the TEMA Clinic in Accra, Ghana, gave us the charge: “The passion must go! By 2015 it is very possible to see no child born with HIV.” Dr. Patricia knows this not only because she is an expert in her field but because she has Advent hope. As a board member of Ghana’s Youth for Christ, she lives out in word and deed the model for the 21st century: to love God and neighbor right here, right this moment.
Advent is a season of expected longing; a time where Christians engage in an active waiting for the coming of Christ again into our lives. As Jesus’ mother Mary carried her precious son in great expectancy and great thankfulness for what the “Mighty One” had done in her time (Luke 1:49) we must be expectant with hope acted out in public now for the fight to end AIDS once and for all.
It’s the day after World AIDS Day and the work goes on. Let’s keep fighting.
Adam Phillips is a Evangelical Covenant Church minister and director of faith mobilization for the ONE Campaign.