Building on our HIV/AIDS Successes in Ethiopia

On World AIDS Day, commemorated on December 1 every year, we pay tribute to the millions who are infected and affected by HIV/AIDS worldwide. We continue to spread the word that in spite of much success, too many lives are still being devastated by this deadly disease. Our task looms large, but our message is simple: Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS Free Generation.

Globally, as of December of last year, 11.7 million people in low and middle income countries were receiving life-saving HIV treatment. The American people support more than half of these individuals (6.7 million) through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease. In addition, PEPFAR programs have supported more than one million babies to be born free from HIV, while millions more have benefitted from HIV prevention and care programs.

In Ethiopia, PEPFAR directly supports life-saving antiretroviral treatment (ART) for more than 355,000 men, women and children.  More than 1.3 million people are reached through care and support programs, including 592,000 orphans and vulnerable children. This year PEPFAR’s programming efforts around the prevention of mother-to-child transmission have provided 20,000 mothers, two-thirds of all HIV-positive women estimated to have been pregnant in 2014,  with antiretroviral prophylaxis, greatly increasing the chance that their babies will be born HIV-free.

Working in partnership with the Ethiopian government for more than a decade, we have made incredible progress.  Ethiopia is one of thirteen countries that have reached the “tipping point” with the annual number of people initiating ART exceeding the number of people newly infected, resulting in both a 50% decrease in AIDS-associated mortality and a 90% reduction in HIV incidence since the introduction of PEPFAR to Ethiopia in 2005.  Noting the ongoing focus on this issue by the Government of Ethiopia, the country’s health officials challenged themselves to break the record for the number of HIV tests carried out in one day, shooting for 2,000 tests, focusing on the Gambella State, where 6.5 percent of residents have HIV or AIDS (compared to the average 1.5 percent rate countrywide). They succeeded by testing 3,383!

One innovative program using PEPFAR funding is the “Red Card” prevention program for school youth in Ethiopia. It is a $3 million program, lasting for 21 months, from June 2013 through March 2015, and implemented in Amhara, Tigray, SNNPR, Oromia and Addis Ababa. The Red Card activity and training is one of the prevention programs used to address gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual harassment issues, which puts women and girls at increased risk of contracting HIV.

We are also becoming smarter about how we are making investments with the goal of saving more lives and preventing new infections. This will require continued, collaborative commitment of government, development partners, civil society and healthcare providers in regional, town and woreda levels.  By fighting HIV/AIDS, we are supporting the foundation of healthy, productive and stable societies in which countries can better care for their own people not just today but over the long term. No one entity alone can create an AIDS–free generation; it will take all of us, working together, to get there.

On this World AIDS Day, we have reached a critical moment whereby we are close to controlling the epidemic, closer than ever before. The continued strong partnership between the U.S. and Ethiopia, through PEPFAR and its accompanying programs, is what makes an AIDS-free generation within our reach.