During an early turning point for the allies in World War II, Winston Churchill delivered a speech that offered both caution and hope.
“This is not the end,” he said. “It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Christmas of 2000 marks the end of the beginning of the 21st century.
The nation is in an altogether different kind of holiday spirit from a year ago at this time. No longer are we preoccupied with looking back on the century that has passed, nor do we need to fear the one to come.
None of the catastrophes that had been predicted from paralysis in the skies to blackouts in our cities to terrorist attacks to world apocalypse came to pass when we turned the page on our calendars.
When we gather with loved ones in a few days to exchange our gifts we can look back on a good beginning, and forward with less trepidation and more wisdom.
Of course we did not leave behind the catastrophes of the last century when we turned the page to 2000. And none is more threatening than the AIDS pandemic, which has only gathered in strength in this first year of the new millennium. Over 5 million people have been infected since last Christmas.
Other statistics released earlier this month by the United Nations are equally staggering: 58 million infected since 1980; 22 million already dead. These statistics scream of a seemingly unstoppable peril. That can be dangerous. It is hard to hear the whisper of hope above the cry of fear.
But what this first year of the 21st century has shown us that there are reasons to hope. They need to be spoken of, loudly and clearly.
The reality that emerges when we take stock of all that has come to light over the past year is that it is indeed possible to reverse the impact of this disease on families and communities around the globe.
We do have proven strategies that work to prevent AIDS, even if those strategies are not yet being applied broadly enough.
Far from being helpless, we in fact already possess the tools we need to prevent millions of infections and save millions of lives. In Africa and around the world, this is happening every day. We can look to countries such as Uganda, where HIV infection rates among pregnant women have been cut in half. Senegal, which stopped AIDS before it could explode, and Thailand, where a nationwide epidemic was halted in its tracks, offer proof of the power we already possess.
While currently we still lack the essential tools to permanently defeat the virus vaccines that prevent and drugs that cure the power to change these statistics is in our hands right now. The successful efforts that have taken place overseas and here at home share three key elements. First, each was precipitated by firm political commitment at the highest levels. Leaders recognized the need to take action, and moved quickly to mobilize support behind proven strategies for intervention. In Uganda, for instance, president Museveni made AIDS his top priority. He spoke openly of safe sex and destigmatizing those living with the disease.
Second, each solution was based upon the premise that governments cannot do it all, and that no one government particularly in impoverished regions can bear the burden for a global disease. Effective strategies are rooted in effective partnerships, between the government, the private sector, charitable and faith-based organizations, community groups and the public at large.
This is how the world has come to the brink of wiping out the polio virus for all time: a dynamic partnership between the World Health Organization, the U.S. Agency for International Development, donor nations, vaccine manufacturers, and millions of volunteers mobilized by Rotary International in countries all around the world. By broadening existing partnerships, we can do much the same to the AIDS virus.
Finally, in each instance political will and cohesive partnerships were backed by the resources needed to carry out proven methods of prevention and control. These resources must be marshaled on a global rather than a national scale. Developed countries are coming to recognize that infectious diseases will not stop just outside our borders.
In providing resources in the fight against AIDS, by giving to others we also give to ourselves. As we gather together to celebrate the season, the world is paying attention and acting. The G-8 nations announced last week a massive effort against the diseases of poverty, with billions of dollars committed by the European Union and Japan. Charitable institutions are also having an enormous impact. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed more than $2 billion dollars to this effort, and just recently announced the establishment of an annual million-dollar award, the Gates Award for Global Health, for organizations that lead the way. Large pharmaceutical companies are contributing drugs worth hundreds of millions of dollars and are looking for ways to do more.
But a global crusade needs a global leader. President-elect George W. Bush and the incoming Congress should seize this opportunity, one presented by the happy confluence of a growing global consensus, the emergence of effective strategies, and a period of peace and prosperity. By doubling or even tripling U.S. resources directed toward AIDS and other diseases of poverty, we can win this war. By doing so we will change the trajectory of our global society for the next century, and leave our children a brighter future. What a fitting gift that would be.
Nils Daulaire is president of the Global Health Council.