On December 1st, the global community will observe World AIDS Day. This year I would like to mark it by highlighting the work of two heroes who are making a difference in the fight against this deadly disease.
Chief Jonathan Eshiloni Mumena is chief of the Kaonde people, who live along Zambia’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Risking his position as his people’s leader, Chief Mumena challenged long-held traditions to encourage Kaonde men to embrace voluntary medical male circumcision as a strategy to prevent HIV transmission. (Male circumcision can reduce a man’s risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV by up to 60 percent.) I had the privilege of meeting Chief Mumena in 2012. His story is an inspiring tale of courageous leadership and deep compassion for his people.
Guided by her belief that health care is a basic human right, Dr. Krisana Kraisintu, a pharmacist from Thailand, has worked tirelessly to make medicines affordable to even the poorest in the world. Her development of generic versions of the lifesaving HIV drugs dramatically reduced treatment costs, saving and improving countless lives. She has also dedicated her pharmaceutical skills to reduce treatment costs for malaria and other diseases.
Of course, Chief Mumena and Dr. Kraisintu are just two of the countless individuals—doctors, policymakers, researchers, activists, and political leaders—whose contributions have helped turn the tide against the disease. Today, 19.5 million people receive lifesaving antiretroviral therapy, giving them the opportunity to live full, productive lives. Improved access to treatment has also meant that millions of babies are now born HIV-free.
Much of this progress has been made possible by the world’s enormous investments in efforts to defeat the epidemic, including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the U.S. HIV/AIDS program known as PEPFAR, President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
Still, many challenges lie ahead in the fight against the AIDS epidemic.
As I wrote about earlier this year, funding for HIV control has been flat and there’s talk about cuts as the world turns to other priorities. Cuts in funding for HIV/AIDS would lead to sharp increases in deaths and new infections, reversing the gains that have been made the last decade. That’s why it’s more important than ever for the world to reaffirm its commitment to this fight. We need more AIDS heroes—from health care workers and advocates to global leaders. Together, we can bring an end to this public health threat.
If you want to be a hero this World AIDS Day, support the (RED) Shopathon. Our foundation is matching every dollar raised—up to $15 million—to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa.