Just recently I finished reading a biography of Elizabeth Taylor. A fascinating woman no matter how you look at it. But more than her jewels, her marriages, her violet eyes… the biggest thing about Elizabeth Taylorthat should always be remembered, is the work she did to raise money and awareness for HIV/AIDS.
When AIDS first came to public, it was shunned and unmentionable: even the President of the USA refused to mention it in public, and when Elizabeth Taylor first tried to organise a fundraiser she had to beat down the doors of Hollywood to get people to attend. She worked tirelessly throughout the latter part of her life – despite her own terrible health problems – to raise awareness of AIDS and reduce its stigma. She also raised millions of dollars for research and, through the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, gave money directly to people with AIDS and HIV to buy food, medicine, and medical treatment.
Today is World AIDS Day, and according to a recent article in The Guardian, we could do with having Elizabeth Taylor around now, too. On the one hand, massive steps forward have been made in the treatment of AIDS, and it is now possible to prevent contamination using the same medicines that are used to suppress the symptoms of AIDS.
On the other hand, to keep these drugs and progress coming, to keep people receiving the drugs they need, and to keep mothers from passing AIDS on to their babies, or people passing it on to their partners, one thing is needed: Money.
Without money, the research won’t continue; progress won’t be made; and people with AIDS won’t get the already-existing treatments they need. The Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has cancelled its next round of funding. Without this money, developing countries have no hope of affording the drugs which are widely available in first world countries. This means that contamination will increase, and people already on the medication will stop taking it, letting AIDS run rampant through their bodies again: a stronger, resistant strain that will in turn require much stronger drugs to be managed, assuming they could be afforded.
AIDS now straddles a startling fault-line: one side has no money, no research, no drugs, no prevention. The other side has progress so huge that Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, has spoken about the possibility of an ‘AIDS-free generation.’
Money is the one thing that stops a U-turn in the progress of AIDS treatment and prevention. When the Global Fund asked for US$20 billion last year, they received only US$11.7 billion. The truth is, AIDS isn’t as popular as it used to be. When such progress has been made that levels of contamination in developed countries fall low, the cash stops flowing.
People argue that AIDS has had too much of the money allocated for World Health. And people argue that in times of economic crisis, everything takes a hit and health funds are no different. But AIDS has taken so much money because that’s what it needs to be beaten. People in the world don’t stop having AIDS or lower their risk of infection because they can’t afford the drugs any more.
Now is the time to give one final push – and yes, a big cash injection – to the Global Fund. The endline could be in sight, and to falter at the last fence could be to reverse all that has been achieved so far. Putting up the funds now could make all the money and work of the last 40 years worth it. Stopping the money now could mean everything that’s been spent so far was just money down the drain.