TELLURIDE - In a world where more than a thousand babies are born with the HIV virus every day, Colorado now boasts a zero-percent HIV transmission rate from infected mothers to their newborn children.
That’s thanks in part to the Telluride AIDS Benefit, which in 21 years has raised well over $2 million for HIV/AIDS-related nonprofits, including the Colorado Children’s Hospital Immunodeficiency Program, the Western Colorado AIDS Project, the University of Colorado Hospital Foundation, and three organizations working on the Western Slope with the state’s estimated 12,000 residents living with HIV/AIDS.
The number of HIV-infected babies worldwide could drop to zero, if all HIV-infected women had access to UNICEF’s Easter-egg-colored Mother-Baby Packs and could take the antibiotic and anti-retroviral drugs the packets contain in the right doses, at the right times, during pregnancy.
The UNICEF-backed organization UNAIDS has called for a 50 percent reduction in new HIV infections by 2015. This in a world where roughly 35 million people now live with HIV, and tens of millions more have died of HIV/AIDS-related causes since 1980, when HIV/AIDS took on epidemic proportions.
Imagine living in a world well on the path to eradicating HIV/AIDS. It’s not impossible, says Telluride AIDS Benefit Founder Kandee Degraw. “If the private sector steps up to compensate in places where governments have reduced their funding” for fighting HIV/AIDS, she said, “this goal is attainable.”
Health workers can now test pregnant women for HIV, and send them home with a UNICEF Mother-Baby pack. But in developing countries, testing and monitoring HIV-positive mothers-to-be can be problematic.
In wealthier nations, the biggest enemy is a false sense of complacency that the battle against HIV/AIDS is nearly won.
According to the UNAIDS report, “the annual number of new HIV infections among adults and adolescents decreased by 50 percent or more in 26 countries between 2001 and 2012,” but obstacles remain. For example, “recent surveys in several countries in sub‑Saharan Africa have detected decreases in condom use and/or an increase in the number of sexual partners.” Among drug users, the report states, “the world is not on track to reduce HIV transmission among people who injectdrugs by 50 percent, as recent evidence suggests little change in the HIV burden in thispopulation,” and “HIV prevalence among people who inject drugs remains high – up to28 percent in Asia.”
And while “the world has the potential to reach at least 90 percent of pregnant women living with HIV with antiretroviral interventions by 2015…substantially greater efforts are needed to link pregnant women and children to HIV treatment and care.”
Although the world is within reach of providing antiretroviral therapy to 15 million people, according to UNAIDS, in 2012, 9.7 million people in low- and middle-income countries received antiretroviral therapy, “representing 61 percent of all who were eligible under the 2010 World Health Organization HIV treatment guidelines.” Despite the fact that the world is within reach of achieving the 2015 target of reducing
tuberculosis-related deaths among people living with HIV by 50 percent, UNAIDS reports that “reducing tuberculosis-related deaths among people living with HIV has slowed in recent years.”
And although there have been gains in mobilizing financial resources for the AIDS response in recent years, too many lower-middle and low-income countries remain “heavily dependent on international assistance,” which – again, due in large part to a complacent belief that the AIDS battle is being won – is waning.
Gender inequality and HIV-related stigma and discrimination continue, although HIV integration “with diverse systems and sectors” is improving, with 90 percent of the world’s countries recognizing the need to work to abolish HIV.
That last point – that it is possible to successfully birth a generation freed from the devastation that comes with HIV – is the one we must hold onto.
“There’s absolutely the possibility of seeing a generation without HIV” in our lifetime, says Degraw.
But before that can happen, we must all understand that the fight to educate the global population about HIV/AIDS is never-ending, and that’s what this week’s Telluride AIDS Benefit is all about.
TAB’s Gala Fashion Show takes place Saturday, March 1, at the Telluride Conference Center, at 8 p.m. TAB’s Locals’ Night is Thursday, Feb. 28 at the Conference Center (8 p.m.); Friday brings the TAB Art Auction to the Sheridan Opera House (12-10 p.m.), with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at 6 p.m.