- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 28, 2004

How would the world respond if today, tomorrow and every day this year, 20 jumbo jets crashed in every corner of the world? Rescue teams would rush to provide medical assistance to those who needed it. Experts would work frantically to prevent it from happening again. The United States would no doubt lead the world in responding to such a spectacular emergency. While such a terrible scenarioisfarfetched, a far less spectacular but just as deadly one is underway.

Today, 8,500 people will die of AIDS. The disease has already killed 30 million people worldwide.12,000 people contract HIVdaily, adding to the 40 million that are already infected. In May1982, Lawrence Altman, now the chief medical writer for the New York Times, wrote that “in many parts of the world there is anxiety, bafflement, a sense that something has to be done.” Sadly, that statement remains true today.

We now know how AIDS is contracted, and we certainly know how to prevent the disease’s spread. Our leaders accept that more needs to be done each year to fight AIDS, but their actions lead many to believe that they are not truly willing to undertake what is necessary to stop the disease once and for all. Instead of responding with a force that would end the pandemic, they seem content to do a little more each year. The United States and other donor nations have tacitly adopted the positions that AIDS will always be with us.

If the world’s leaders decided to truly stop AIDS, there is little disagreement about what would constitute an effective response: First, world leaders would join together to prevent HIV from spreading further. Currently only one in five people at high risk of infection have access to the most basic prevention services. These include condom promotion, infection testing, treatment for other sexually transmitted diseases,drugstoprevent mother-to-child transmission and harm-reduction strategies for intravenous drug users. Government, the private sector and nongovernmentalorganizations would work together so that no segment of the population is unable to protect itself.

Second,treatment would be made available to those who need it. A mere 7 percent of people who require anti-retroviral therapy in the developing world actually receive it.

By integrating treatment and prevention programs, these people will be far more likely to seek life-saving services.

Third, the United States and the wealthiest countries of the world would lead the effort to allow greater levels of debt relief to the poorest countries. The governments of the G8 must work with the World Bank, the IMF and the Paris Club of Official Creditors to help these global institutions forgive the debt which prevents poor countries from investing in their fights against AIDS.

Finally, donor funds for fighting AIDS would be dramatically increased and better coordinated with other donors. While the Bush administration shouldbecommended for increased AIDS spending,Washington’sspending must be increased to around $30 billion by 2008 — more than double what it is spending now — in order to stop the spread of the disease and to treat those infected. A significant portion of the spending would be used to build basic infrastructure that will allow hard-hit countries to improve their health-care systems.

Recipients of funding need to be held to increased levels of accountability in order to prevent waste and ensure effectiveness.

Unlike the victims of a plane crash, thereisnothingspectacular about peopledyingof AIDS. Their lives end quietly and painfully, with nothing more than the grief of those they love to remember them by. Today, 8,500 lives will end this way.

AIDS is the greatest public-health crisis facing the world today — but we know how to stop this disease. This World AIDS Day, the United States and other wealthy countries of the world must decide that stopping AIDS is truly what they intend to do.

Trevor Neilson is executive director of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, a network of over 170 international companies fighting the AIDS pandemic.

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