AIDS at 40
Marking progress through global investment, Project HOPE urges continued coordination, education & action worldwide to address equity gaps & end AIDS epidemic
Washington, D.C. (June 9, 2021) – On Saturday, June 5, 2021 the global health community commemorated the 40th anniversary of the first AIDS cases to emerge. Dr. Tom Kenyon, chief health officer at Project HOPE and former director of global programs at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Chris Skopec, executive vice president of global health, issued the following statements:
“As important as it is to celebrate progress and honor the past, it is important to remind ourselves that there is still no cure or an effective preventive vaccine for HIV/AIDS after 40 years of trying. In spite of historic leadership and investment that saved tens of millions of lives through the creation of President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS (PEPFAR) by U.S. President Bush and the Global Fund, we were slow to bring effective prevention and treatment technologies to low-income countries, and tragically we’ve lost 32 million people globally to this deadly pandemic. Today, 13 million people living with HIV remain undetected and/or left untreated – stigma and discrimination, gender-based issues, weak health systems, and lack of access remain important obstacles to overcome. We owe it to those we’ve lost to revive our commitment to protect and save the lives of those who are most vulnerable today.
“Health equity gaps continue to define who has access to treatment, and who does not. This is a global issue where wealthy nations and communities have an advantage, while economically disadvantaged countries and communities are at greater risk for becoming infected and remaining untreated. In the late 1980s, when I was based in Swaziland, there was no access even to HIV testing, much less the effective tools we have now for both prevention and treatment. Medical innovations that brought hope to people in wealthier places were slow to reach many people in greatest need. Effective HIV treatment was discovered in 1996 but did not reach Africa on any scale until 2004. Similar gaps in access remain today in regions where HIV/AIDS is prevalent, threatening the lives and well-being of children, women and men who all equally deserve health care as a human right. The best way to honor the people we’ve lost to AIDS is to do everything possible to further build local capacity to stop the continued spread of this preventable and treatable disease. We must expand epidemiologically targeted investments to protect people and save lives among most vulnerable, especially young women.
“Also, humans have a tendency for creating dangerous biases against certain members of society that impedes efforts to stop infectious diseases, even when we have the technology to do so. Just as early misinformation about HIV/AIDS tragically stigmatized some people and communities such as gay men and drug abusers, again we’re witnessing the role that racism plays in falsely blaming Asian groups for the COVID pandemic. Recognizing 40 years of the HIV/AIDS pandemic provides another opportunity to honor the people, patients, health workers, scientists, and social activists who worked tirelessly on the frontlines of the early AIDS crisis and for their role in breaking down equity barriers, battling disinformation, and saving lives through unity and the empowerment that comes with health care access.”
- Dr. Tom Kenyon, chief health officer, Project HOPE
“The world community came together to pursue the common goal of fighting this deadly disease, a lesson that’s poignant today. The UN Security Council met in 2000 to address the global security threats caused by AIDS. While AIDS and COVID-19 are different diseases in nature, we need similar global coordination to end both. Just as AIDS was treated like a global security threat, COVID requires the same degree of global rigor, coordination and urgency. And while significant progress has been made in battling AIDS, our global community fell short on 2020 goals to mitigate the disease. In order to reach the goal to end the AIDS pandemic by 2030, we need to reconvene, reimagine approaches and reinvest in what it will take to bring what’s been one of the deadliest pandemics of our modern era to an end.”
- Chris Skopec, executive vice president, global health Project HOPE
About Project HOPE
With the mission to place power in the hands of local health workers to save lives around the world, Project HOPE is a global health and humanitarian organization operating in more than 25 countries. Founded in 1958, we work side-by-side with local health systems to improve health and support community resilience. We work at the epicenter of today’s greatest health challenges, including infectious and chronic diseases; disasters and health crises; maternal, neonatal and child health; pandemic preparedness and response; mental health for health workers; and the policies that impact how health care is delivered. For more information, visit www.ProjectHOPE.org and follow us on Twitter @ProjectHOPEorg.
Interviews with global health experts available upon request.