Thirty years after AIDS came into our lives with its despair and hopelessness, the United States will for the first time host the annual International AIDS conference in Washington this summer. Experts now say we could eliminate AIDS in one generation. Research has demonstrated we could virtually end transmission from mother to child and reduce transmission from adult to adult by 96 percent.
But just as we are seeing the end of AIDS as a real possibility, we also find ourselves strapped for money in every aspect of our lives. Many question if we can spend money on AIDS globally when we have so much trouble in our own economy.
For 10 years, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has done extraordinary work to bring these diseases under control. We should celebrate this as the Global Fund now saves 100,000 lives each month. But the Global Fund is in danger of losing this momentum.
In 2011, the United States pledged $4 billion to the Global Fund for 2011-13. So far, we have given $1.05 billion in 2011 and the same in 2012. To keep our promise, we now need to deliver $1.9 billion for 2013. The U.S. pledge is critical for two reasons: The amount is significant, and many other nations take their cue from U.S. leadership. The Global Fund is now concerned that the United States may not fulfill its pledge. This concern, and reduced commitments from other nations, recently caused the Global Fund to shut down its expansion plan until 2014, a major blow to ending AIDS. How odd and sad that we seem to have lost focus at a time when so much is possible.
Joanne Carter, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group RESULTS, says, "We're calling for an emergency donor conference to mobilize the resources needed to reverse the situation … before the International AIDS Conference this July." If the United States, Britain and a handful of other key donors join together and commit to meeting their pledges, we can find the resources to reverse this devastating setback.
The U.S. pledge may sound like big dollars, but this investment will lower our future funding needs. It represents an extremely small part of our budget, equal to about one day's worth of Pentagon spending. Funding this work reflects what has made our country great and is critical to our self-interest. A significant portion of potential U.S. economic growth lies in the huge developing populations that need our help now to both stabilize and grow their economies so they will buy our goods and services.
In December, President Barack Obama said: "We can beat this disease. We can win this fight. We just have to keep at it, today, tomorrow and every day until we get to zero." Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, said, "We are a blessed people. We're not just blessed so we can have, we're also blessed so we can give. … We are a generation of Americans and people who are on the verge of eradicating (AIDS), of creating an entire generation of people that won't know what HIV is. That is extraordinary."
Many members of both political parties agree on the importance of supporting developing nations, yet we have still underdelivered on our Global Fund pledge. As we see so often in Washington, even nonpartisan issues get dragged into the partisan stalemate. It is time for leaders to take a risk, to get beyond the mire, to speak out. Forget negotiation and compromise. That's what people do when they are on different sides of an issue. In this case, the parties already agree.
Sens. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Marco Rubio should speak in favor of funding the balance of the $4 billion pledge, Florida's House members should speak out to move the House ahead on this so it isn't held hostage to the ongoing political tug of war.
Ken Schatz of Tampa has been a volunteer for 30 years with RESULTS, a citizens lobby whose mission is to create the political will to end the worst aspects of poverty and to empower individuals to have breakthroughs in exercising their personal and political power.