WASHINGTON — News broke last week that South Africa has the fastest growing rate of new HIV infections of any country in the world, underscoring the urgency of the fight against HIV/AIDS and the fragility of our progress to date. It also underscores a perpetual truth: leadership matters and we need bold, innovative and affirmed commitment to end this disease.
Early this year, the Obama administration nominated Deborah Birx as the next US Global AIDS Coordinator and first woman to assume the role. Last week, the Senate voted to confirm her appointment. In this position, Birx will oversee the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest commitment a nation has ever made to combat a single disease. Our hope is that she uses this leadership role to work with diverse groups to promote the health and rights of all people and to expand the integration of family planning and HIV services.
We have come a long way in the fight against HIV/AIDS through PEPFAR and other programs. Yet as South Africa’s news illustrates, troubling disparities, stigma, and discrimination persist and women often bear the brunt of the burden. These challenges require immediate programmatic and policy attention.