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By Peter Chernin, chairman and CEO of The Chernin Group; chairman of Malaria No More (www.MalariaNoMore.org) and board member of Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (www.TheGlobalFight.org)
The ongoing budget negotiations in Washington will require many hard choices to be made in the coming weeks. With respect to global health programs, these decisions may mean, literally, the difference between life and death. At this unique moment in time — where we have an opportunity to truly turn the tide on diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria — having a strong advocate, such as the one we have in Secretary of State John Kerry, has never been more critical.
Secretary Kerry has heard firsthand the stories of individuals, families and communities devastated by these diseases. He recently recounted an experience he had speaking with young women of only 13 and 14 at a school in South Africa. Many of these teenagers were caring for relatives with HIV. Of this experience, he said, “…it was moving to see what [the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] PEPFAR is doing…The difference it made to the lives of those people and their sense of possibility — young girls who, for the first time, [are] being given an opportunity. “
Like Secretary Kerry I, too, have met people on the front lines of fighting these diseases. I first became interested in global health during a trip to Botswana; my guide took his leave one afternoon by explaining to me that he needed to care for family members orphaned from HIV/AIDS. It was this experience that inspired me to join the Harvard AIDS Institute and to subsequently become a Board Member for Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and Chairman of the Board for Malaria No More.
My experiences, and the knowledge I have gained from them, inform my excitement about Secretary Kerry and his record of supporting lifesaving health efforts worldwide. It is through leadership like his that remarkable progress has been made in the fights against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. In the past decade, strong political champions and increases in funding have helped to avert 1.1 million malaria deaths, reduce the number of new tuberculosis cases, and ensure AIDS treatment for more than eight million people worldwide.
All those years ago I witnessed the heartbreaking consequences of disease, but more recently I have been privileged to see real progress. For instance, I had the opportunity to travel to Tanzania where, not long before my visit to a health clinic, 1,500 cases of malaria had been diagnosed within a six-month period. When I arrived, the number of diagnosed cases in that same amount of time had been reduced to one. From1,500 to one. This is simply astonishing.
Examples like this are no longer uncommon. This kind of progress is due in large part to the support of individuals like Secretary Kerry and the efforts of organizations like the Global Fund, the world’s largest global health financier. The U.S. government’s endorsement of and support for the Global Fund allow the organization to work hand-in-hand with bilateral initiatives, such as the President’s Malaria Initiative and PEPFAR, expanding their reach toward the common goal of saving lives.
In speaking to a foreign policy classroom recently, Secretary Kerry spoke about being on the cusp of an AIDS-free generation, saying that, through interventions like those that prevent mothers from transmitting AIDS to their children, “Americans — who have put their dollars on the line…have saved over five million lives in Africa. That’s the difference we make.”
I’m so pleased that Secretary Kerry has continued to uphold the legacy of U.S. support for global health programs that he worked on in the Senate. It is clear that he understands that global health is not a one-time investment. By maintaining funding today, we have the opportunity to stop these diseases in their tracks and continue building upon the successes of the past decade, rather than risk squandering the investments we’ve made thus far.