Treatments to combat HIV/AIDS already exist — the obstacle to defeating the disease, Stephen Lewis says, is a lack of resources.
Lewis, co-director of AIDS-Free World, an international AIDS advocacy organization, spoke before an audience of about 100 people Monday evening at the Anlyan Center, a part of the Immunobiology Department at the Yale School of Medicine. In his talk, a part of the Global Health Seminar, an elective course offered through the Yale School of Public Health, Lewis said he sees the future of the global fight against AIDS as dependent on the willingness of donors to give to the cause. In his view, the goal of aid being given without “undue cynicism and doubt” is one that Western nations, particularly the United States, have been failing to reach. He urged the students and professors present at the talk to speak with national representatives about the urgency of devoting more funds to the fight against AIDS.
“At precisely the moment when we can defeat the pandemic … we are running out of money,” he said.
Lewis identified The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a public-private financing institution devoted to global health, as one of the most important funding sources for the battle against AIDS. He said that the latest series of relief efforts proposed by the Fund, which would have been a significant step towards eradicating the AIDS pandemic, failed primarily due to a lack of aid from Western governments.
Lewis said that these donors promised funds, but then failed to fulfill their promises, causing potentially life-saving efforts to fall through. He compared such actions to murder and suggested that such actions might one day be considered criminal offenses, to be tried by international courts of law in a similar manner to war crimes.
“Western countries need to say, ‘We just can’t do this, we just can’t kill people,’ ” Lewis said.
In the absence of funding, Lewis said he urges the public to contact representatives in national government and non-governmental organizations. He said students at Yale can effect change by working with these groups, particularly the Friends of the Global Fund, a non-profit partner organization of the Global Fund itself, to find the resources needed to combat AIDS.
Following Lewis’ talk, Michael Skonieczny, executive director of Yale’s Global Health Leadership Institute, said it will be important for students to embrace the “spark” that World AIDS Day this Thursday will provide to on-campus relief efforts.
“This Thursday is marking 30 years [since the first diagnoses] of HIV, so it’s an important milestone in time to reflect on what’s been done and what needs to be done,” Skonieczny said. “Personally, I couldn’t agree with [Lewis] more about this pivotal moment that we’re at with funding for these programs.”
Lewis co-founded AIDS-Free World in 2007 with former UNICEF U.S. Fund spokeswoman Paula Donovan, who continues to serve with him as the group’s other co-director. He was the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa from June 2001 until the end of 2006. Prior to that, he was the deputy executive director of UNICEF at the organization’s global headquarters in New York from 1995 to 1999.
Lewis is a visiting professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, his home country. In addition to his 2003 appointment as a Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation’s highest honor for lifetime achievement, he also holds 35 honorary degrees, including one from Dartmouth University.