A few weeks ago you couldn't turn on the television without hearing echoes of President Kennedy's bold moon shot speech. Less than a decade later after it was delivered, an American flag was being planted in lunar sand.
Today marks the 26th Anniversary of World AIDS Day and we are still looking for our moon shot. Yes, there have been remarkable strides in the international response to HIV/AIDS. New infections are down by over 50 percent worldwide. Nearly 10 million people in poor countries are now receiving treatment that weren't just a decade ago. There's greater awareness and prevention, more effective treatment and more access to it -- especially in the West. But if we're focused as a nation, as a people, as a planet, we are at a far more powerful turning point -- the beginning of the end of AIDS.
We are on the cusp of ensuring everyone in the world living with HIV receives the treatment they need to survive. Science is showing signs this would control the pandemic once and for all. Someone fire up the rocket boosters, because this is possible and possible within the next decade. Treatment for everyone is a very reachable goal championed by leading HIV advocates, world leaders, global organizations, and dignitaries. Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton, Archbishop Tutu, Elton John, and many others have spoken eloquently on the specifics of how to see this dream realized.
This is our moon shot.
To borrow and reimagine the words of President Kennedy: We choose to end AIDS. We choose to provide access to treatment to everyone in the world living with HIV by the end of this decade, not because it is easy, but because it is hard; because it will save millions of lives that for too long have been overlooked, cast aside, and forgotten; because it will help elevate a generation out of poverty, heartbreak and despair; because children regardless of race or geography deserve the opportunity to pursue their dreams; because it will prove that the collective hearts of humanity are more powerful than stigma, homophobia, and indifference; because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.
There is much work yet to do, seven out of 10 children still don't have access to treatment. We need to turn that number around. I have seen the power of the on the ground programs of Keep a Child Alive, the organization I co-founded 10 years ago with Leigh Blake. As part of the international movement to expand access to treatment to those most in need, we have touched the lives of more than 300,000 children and adults affected by HIV in Africa and India. I am encouraged by the stories of young people like Aimee in Kigali, Rwanda, and Evelyn in Kampala, Uganda, who came to us as children, were initiated on antiretroviral treatment and provided compassionate care; they are still coming back, still taking their medicines, and now entering their teen years with a bright future ahead. Such a transformation seemed impossible just a decade ago.
Ten years ago under the previous administration both Republicans and Democrats championed the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which put nearly three million people on life saving treatment, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa. During this decade one million babies globally that would have been infected have been born HIV-free, and the spread of HIV has slowed, even in the hardest hit countries. Congress recently voted to extend PEPFAR, which is remarkable, especially at this time when Republicans and Democrats can't seem to agree on anything. President Obama expanded this program and increased the number of people receiving HIV treatment to six million. (Mr. President, we understand your administration's goal is to once again double the number of people receiving treatment. We're counting on you...)
The Global Fund replenishment meeting to be held next week in Washington is an opportunity to remind ourselves that we can't stop now. Let's be bold enough to imagine that in ten years -- 2023 -- all people living with HIV in the world will have access to life-saving antiretroviral treatment. No baby boy or girl will be infected with HIV. We have conquered AIDS. But this vision depends on how big of a commitment we, as nations, religious institutions, the private sector, individuals and communities, are willing to make to see this mission through.
Now is the time to build on our success and remain vigilant. We have a roadmap to end this epidemic and live in a world where ALL PEOPLE regardless of geography have access to life-saving medicine.
We can (and have) high-fived each other for our past achievements. Everyone who has marched, donated, rallied, lobbied, prayed, or searched for an end to AIDS can certainly feel good about how far we've come. I have seen the love in action first hand. But World AIDS Day was never meant to be a victory lap. It's a mile marker.
World AIDS Day reminds us all of the role we have in ending this disease: We can encourage our representatives to expand funding for PEPFAR and the Global Fund. We can utilize the power of our social media platforms and networks to help keep HIV/AIDS on the forefront of minds by spreading awareness about the great work left to be done. We can support the many organizations doing good work to prevent HIV, support those living with HIV here in the US and around the world and to help reduce the stigma associated with the disease.
As President Kennedy said in the moon shot speech, "If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred." The millions affected by HIV are counting on our generation's brave and bold determination.