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Up for Debate: Fighting for an AIDS-Free Generation

December 04, 2012

What will it really take to end AIDS? The Skoll World Forum and Impatient Optimists have co-produced a blog series to answer this question. We'll publish two posts/day over the next three days.

According to the latest report by UNAIDS, new HIV infections have dropped more than 50% in 25 low and middle-income countries. Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled what she described as a blueprint for an ‘AIDS-Free Generation’. There may not be consensus on how best to tackle the AIDS pandemic, but it is impossible to doubt the depth of global commitment. However, while we celebrate this progress, we must still confront the challenges ahead. What will it really take to end AIDS? We asked some of the world's leading experts and innovators—representing the UN Global Plan, mothers2mothers, (RED), Riders for Health, ONE Campaign, the Center for Gender Health and Equity, and the Gates Foundation—to highlight key challenges moving forward, and how we can overcome them. 

The world is at a critical point in the fight against AIDS. After more than 30 years and 30 million lives lost to a preventable and treatable disease, scientific advancements have given us the ability to bring about the beginning of the end of AIDS. Eight million people around the world – more than half of those in need – now have access to lifesaving antiretroviral treatment, up from only 300,000 in 2002. We know this same medicine, which costs around 40 cents per day, can also help a pregnant woman living with HIV prevent transmission to her baby. Since the peak of new childhood infections in 2003 – when more than 1,500 children were born every day with HIV – efforts of the global health community and local governments have driven that number down each year. In fact, since 2009, the number has fallen by 24%. Today just over 900 babies are born daily with the virus, and by 2015, that number can be near zero, which means we have the opportunity to help deliver the first AIDS Free Generation in more than 30 years.

(RED) was started by Bono and Bobby Shriver in 2006 to engage the private sector in the fight against AIDS. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was founded as a public-private partnership, but in its first four years, governments had invested $5 billion, while the private sector only $5 million. (RED) was designed to help solve this problem for the Global Fund by kick-starting a steady stream of private sector money into the fund. (RED) partners with the world’s most iconic brands – such as Apple, Starbucks, and Converse – to develop (RED)-branded products and events that benefit the Global Fund. Six years later, (RED) has generated $200 million for the Global Fund, making (RED) far and away the largest business initiative supporting the Fund, and its 16th highest donor, ahead of many countries. 100% of that money goes to work on the ground – no overhead is taken. (RED) supports Global Fund grants that have impacted more than 14 million people with prevention, treatment, counseling, HIV testing and care services in Ghana, Lesotho, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zambia.

While enormous progress has been made over the last decade, we risk reversing these gains if focused and effective funding is not maintained. The struggling global economy and pressing issues at home make this ever more challenging. In addition, many companies now have their own corporate social responsibility programs focused on areas strategically related to their business. So how do we keep attention on the fight against AIDS when there are so many issues competing for the public’s engagement?

(RED)’s creative DNA combined with our partners’ marketing genius and our 3 million person social media following has the ability to generate a lot of noise about this issue. If we can engage young consumers and inspire them to support companies that that are helping to deliver an AIDS Free Generation, companies will see the virtue in being part of the (RED) partner family. And when the world’s greatest companies are choosing this issue – choosing to invest in the Global Fund – policy leaders take note.

To expand the community of young people engaged in the fight, (RED) aims to tap into the cultural Zeitgeist, finding people through their passion points. This World AIDS Day, we have done just that. We’ve partnered with Tiësto, the hottest DJ in the electronic dance music movement, who has curated an incredible album called DANCE (RED), SAVE LIVES, available exclusively on iTunes. We’re launching a (RED) online boutique in partnership with Gilt Groupe where consumers can buy (RED) products in one shopping cart experience. And later this month we’ll be reaching people through a very cool social gaming venture. With each of these partnerships, young people can do the things they love to do, and those actions will benefit the Global Fund and get them involved in this fight.

As Bono says, (RED) can be the “gateway drug” for activism. As we continue to grow our community of consumer activists and use our campaigns as a springboard for additional engagement through our sister organization ONE, the grassroots campaigning and advocacy organization aimed at eliminating extreme poverty, we can truly move the dial and bring the world one step closer to the beginning of the end of AIDS.

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