Following their lead: Partnering with communities to increase access to HIV treatment
When I joined CHAI in early 2010, I planned to stay for two years and then go to graduate school. I never intended to build a career at CHAI, but quickly fell in love with the mission and the work. Prior to joining, I worked in management consulting, and after a few years, I was eager to have a positive impact in the world. I came to CHAI because of its unique approach and the opportunity to use the skills I learned in the private sector to create transformational impact in global health. I have stayed because of the core organizational value of urgency that drives us, because of our close partnerships with governments through which we create real and lasting change, and because of the difference we make in the lives of the people we serve.
Although we have had many successes over the past decade in our work in HIV, it is our failures that keep me up at night and push me to do more. Several years ago, I learned from a friend who is an advocate living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa that his brother had recently died from AIDS after a long battle. He had waited years to get access to an optimal antiretroviral medication, which was widely available in the United States but was not yet available in his country. I was so sorry and sad for my friend, and I felt the weight of his brother’s death as a personal responsibility. The country where he lived is a country where CHAI works, and eventually we managed to support the government to adopt, introduce, and scale up the drug. But we didn’t move fast enough, and I wonder if he would still be alive today if we had succeeded in introducing that drug in his country more quickly.
A significant part of our HIV work focuses on shaping global markets — on accelerating access to the highest quality drugs and diagnostics for the 39 million people living with HIV around the world, and preventing new infections for the millions more who are at risk. The numbers are very large, and sometimes it can be difficult to remember that there are individual lives behind those numbers — people with great dreams and potential, each with stories of triumph and struggle.
The many people I know and have had the pleasure to work with who are living with HIV are my inspiration and motivation every single day. Over the past couple of years, in partnership with Unitaid, CHAI began engaging more closely with communities of people living with HIV across the countries where we work. This partnership is essential to our success. People living with HIV will remain after all the international funding has dried up and all the NGOs have left, and it is a responsibility and a privilege to support and follow their lead everywhere we work.
Although we have seen remarkable progress in the past decade in scaling up access to HIV treatment, there are still many challenges. Children living with HIV lag behind adults in terms of treatment coverage, viral suppression, and many other measures; new HIV infections are not declining quickly enough; there are significant regional and gender disparities; and there are far too many preventable AIDS-related deaths.
The work in HIV is only getting harder. We have come so far, but it is clear that what has gotten us to this point will not be what takes us the final mile. In partnership with governments, communities, donors, and other implementing partners, we will need to move fast to innovate and find creative new solutions, so that we may finally end this epidemic in our lifetimes.