Several months ago, Hillary Clinton defined the goal to create an “AIDS-free generation” soon. Addressing the international conference on AIDS in Washington, D.C., this week, the secretary of state elaborated on the goal:
“It is a time when, first of all, virtually no child anywhere will be born with the virus. Secondly, as children and teenagers become adults, they will be at significantly lower risk of ever becoming infected ... no matter where they are living. And third, if someone does acquire HIV, they will have access to treatment that helps prevent them from developing AIDS and passing the virus on to others.”
That an HIV diagnosis is seen in many parts of the world today as less the terminal disease it used to be indicates the breadth of achievement in research, effective treatment protocols and in prevention. That includes the promising, if frustratingly slow, progress to an AIDS vaccine.
Still, as research and policy experts have made clear at the conference, how soon the AIDS-free goal can be achieved will depend in large measure on the ease of access to information and services for women and girls, who are vulnerable to sexual violence. In developing countries, where females represent roughly 60 percent of the population living with the AIDS virus, the need is particularly high to confront the poverty and social and cultural attitudes that make it difficult for women and girls to protect themselves from unsafe sex or seek preventive treatments. Getting to the point where children are not born with HIV, where an infection does not necessarily mean progression to AIDS requires no small global effort.