World Aids Day: You Can Make A Difference

Mar 18, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

The novelist David Rhodes once wrote that life's fundamental narrative begins with "I" and ends with "you." Everything in between is conveyance from one person to another. What we convey is what matters.

The basic idea of (RED)™ is transactional conveyance; I buy a (RED)-branded product, be it an Apple iPod, a Nike shoelace or a Gap tee-shirt, and a percentage of the profit from that sale goes to the Global Fund. The Global Fund administers a well-managed network of health care projects in sub-Saharan Africa to help stem the spread of AIDS. Somewhere in Ghana or Rwanda or Botswana, someone gets antiretroviral medication which keeps them alive or reduces the likelihood that they will transmit HIV to their unborn or just-born child. And so that someone, who otherwise might die or be destined to die, lives or bequeaths a more promising life instead. It's a good deal.

On World AIDS Day, we don't celebrate with fireworks or champagne. We take note of what has been accomplished and we resolve to keep at it. We are proud of what our partners have accomplished. We like to say that they have gained market share for life (and for themselves) and in so doing they have changed the course of a part of human history.

In 2006, it was estimated that only 8% of HIV-positive pregnant women in Ghana received the antiretroviral medicine necessary to reduce the chance of transmitting HIV to their unborn children. Without the medicine, the chances of HIV transmission were (and are) roughly 50-50. With the medicine, the chances of HIV transmission drop to between 1 and 2%. By the end of 2008, nearly 40% of Ghanaian women in need received the medicine that will transform the lives of their children. That is market share for life. And it is growing year-over-year.

On this World AIDS Day, there is improvement in HIV detection across sub-Saharan Africa. The percentage of pregnant women who were able to take an HIV test increased from 17% in 2007 to 28% in 2008. We have every reason to believe that the percentage figure will increase substantially again this year (the final data are not yet available). The goal obviously is to keep ramping up testing until the chain of HIV transmission from mother to child is one day broken altogether. That day is coming, if we keep after it.

AIDS is not just an African disease, of course. World AIDS Day is testament to the fact that AIDS is a global problem. (RED) focuses on AIDS in Africa because that is where the need is most acute. Nearly 14 million children in Africa have been orphaned because of AIDS. There are an estimated 2 million children living with HIV around the globe, 90% of them are in Africa. More than 90% of the children living with HIV are infected through mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy, around the time of birth or through breast-feeding. This is a fixable catastrophe ($26 covers the cost of providing medication to a pregnant woman to sharply reduce the risk of HIV transmission to her child). And that is where your (RED) dollars go, $26 at a time.

All around the world tonight, from San Francisco to Chicago to Pittsburgh to Los Angeles to Salt Lake City to Dublin, Ireland and London, England, cities will bathe their municipal buildings and town halls and key landmarks and architectural masterpieces in (RED) lights. All across the Internet, on the pages of Facebook and Twitter and Google, there will be links to (RED) and its partners. An ocean and a world away, in the pre-dawn hours of sub-Saharan Africa, men and women will begin their daily work of doing battle with a viral killer, a battle financed in part by the purchases of (RED)-branded products by people like you.

As the CEO of (RED), I have the privilege of working with great partners at the Global Fund and at some of the world's most iconic brands. Every day, I get to work with a dedicated group of professionals who have devoted themselves to a great conveyance. On behalf of all of them, I thank you for your support of (RED) branded products and the work that it enables.

World AIDS Day this year is better than it was a year ago. It will be better still a year from now. We just have to keep after it.