‘The face of AIDS is a woman’s face’
As the world gears up this year for a final push towards the Millennium Development Goals agreed to by all countries in 2000, I write to express my deep concern for women and children affected by HIV and AIDS, writes Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.india Updated: May 23, 2010 01:29 IST
As the world gears up this year for a final push towards the Millennium Development Goals agreed to by all countries in 2000, I write to express my deep concern for women and children affected by HIV and AIDS - a subject sometimes in the shadows of larger themes like poverty and international peace and development but one which affects all of them. This is why I am supporting the BORN HIV FREE campaign to mobilise public support for a world where no child is born with HIV by 2015.
I am not a doctor, a researcher, or a politician. I am simply someone moved by the injustice of a world where the knowledge and medications exist to prevent transmission of HIV and deaths from AIDS, and yet millions of people still become infected and die. I am lending my voice to women and children in particular because, in many parts of the world, their voices are the softest, and they are most disadvantaged by unequal access to resources, discrimination, and, far too often, gender-based violence. In large parts of the world, the face of AIDS is a woman's face.
We have finally begun to make progress against this terrible disease: Today, more than four million people are on AIDS treatment in developing countries -- up from almost no-one, just five years ago. This means that millions of children are growing up with their parents alive to care for them. It means that over half a million mothers have been able to avoid transmitting HIV to their children.
Yet it is unacceptable that last year, more than 400,000 babies, out of which 60,000 were just in South Africa, were born with HIV. In France, the number was four. There is no reason South Africa cannot get close to that number. Without treatment, half of those 400,000 children will die within two years. I would like to world to know that we can create a generation free from AIDS in as little as five years. Life or death for an infant cannot be a matter of how much money you have. It is not acceptable in the 21st century that there is such a difference between developing counties and wealthy ones, when treatment is available and effective. We need to reach all HIV-positive pregnant women and provide them with the simple treatment that can prevent them from transmitting the virus to their babies. We have made tremendous progress in the past few years â€“ we now reach nearly half of the women who need this treatment. We can reach all of them by 2015. A world where virtually all children are BORN HIV FREE is totally achievable, it is not a dream.
Burkina Faso, where I travelled last year, is showing what can be done. In one of the poorest countries in the developing world, I met HIV-positive mothers with their healthy babies. I met pregnant women waiting for the results of their HIV tests or to receive preventive AIDS treatment. I met doctors and nurses who no longer felt like helpless bystanders in the AIDS epidemic but had become healers now that they have the tools they need.
If it can be done in Burkina Faso, there is no reason why the same cannot happen in Nairobi, in Lima, in Phnom Penh and Bangalore, as well.
In September last year, as world leaders met for the 64th UN General Assembly, on behalf of the women and children who are in the unlucky half of those not receiving preventive treatment for HIV, I suggested that we all join UNAIDS in calling for the virtual elimination of vertical transmission by 2015 as a key step towards achieving the health Millennium Development Goals. These goals will not only help us to save lives from AIDS but, as we increasingly see, will benefit maternal and child health more widely. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria funds more than half of the programs around the world to help HIV-positive women prevent passing on the virus to their children. We are asking for no more than that the world support the Global Fundâ€™s work and in so doing make the goal of ensuring that all children are born free of HIV by 2015, a reality.
With this commitment must come the resources needed to get the job done, from traditional donors and through new approaches to financing global health. I am asking everybody to show that they support the goal of an HIV-free generation, and that they want their country to contribute to making it happen by pledging support for the Global Fund. My wish is that we will be able to tell our grandchildren that we did everything we could to stop children everywhere from being born with HIV. Let us be able to say that millions of children grew up with the love of their parents because treatment was available. And that this happened because we finally decided to act with the focus and urgency that every mother and child deserve.
Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is Ambassador for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, for the protection of mothers and children against AIDS.