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The Stakes Could Not Be Higher

Deborah Birx, MD, U.S. Global AIDS CoordinatorEditor’s Note: This blog post highlights the important work being done globally to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Today, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) released its 2015 World AIDS Day report Exit Disclaimer, in advance of December 1. The report finds that 15.8 million people were accessing antiretroviral treatment (ART) as of June 2015. This is an extraordinary achievement–more than doubling the number of people that were on treatment just five years ago.

Over the past 15 years, working together, we have made tremendous progress in the HIV/AIDS response. Globally, since 2000, new HIV infections are down by 35 percent, including 58 percent among children. AIDS-related deaths have declined by 42 percent since their peak in 2004. And, last year, 73 percent of pregnant women living with HIV had access to antiretroviral treatment for their own health and to prevent transmission to their child.

Yet, our work is far from done. With a “business as usual” approach, we risk a cumulative 100 million HIV infections by 2030. Stigma and discrimination remain significant barriers to achieving our goals. When any member of a community is stigmatized or discriminated against in accessing HIV/AIDS services, the health and human dignity of everyone in that community are threatened. It is just that simple.

UNAIDS has demonstrated that we have a five-year window of opportunity to change the trajectory of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The UNAIDS Fast-Track Exit Disclaimer approach set ambitious targets for countries to reach by 2020. If we reach these targets, through a data-driven approach focused on geographic areas and populations with the greatest burden, we can avert 21 million AIDS-related deaths and 28 million new HIV infections by 2030. The stakes could not be higher. The time to act is now.

This September, the global community unanimously committed to a target of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030, in adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. President Obama has set a bold course by announcing that, through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the U.S. government will support 12.9 million people with life-saving antiretroviral treatment, 13 million men with male circumcision, and reduce new HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women by 40 percent in the hardest hit areas of 10 high-burden countries sub-Saharan African countries by the end of 2017. And the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued landmark HIV treatment guidelines Exit Disclaimer, which state that anyone infected with HIV should be treated immediately.

We have everything we need–the tools, science, and shared vision–to eliminate HIV as a public health threat once and for all. UNAIDS once again reminds us of exactly what is needed to fulfill this promise. Once we could only dream of creating an AIDS-free generation. That future is now possible. Now is the time to seize the opportunity to reach it.