LAGUNA BEACH, California — Born Free Africa’s ultimate goal is a lofty one: end mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS by December 31, 2015.
The private-sector-led initiative has a real-time countdown to this date—down to the second—prominently displayed on the homepage of its website. If, in 552 days, Born Free Africa (BFA) reaches it seemingly impossible goal, it will change the future for and save the lives of millions of African children, and will make history in the effort to eradicate the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
More than 90 percent of new HIV infections in children result from mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. Though the world has seen a 50 percent decline in new HIV infections in children since 2003, each day, more than 700 children are born with HIV. Without treatment, roughly one-third of these children will die before their first birthday, and half will die before their second. The vast majority of affected children are born in Africa. By focusing on mother-to-child transmission, BFA is working to break the lifecycle of a virus that in 2012 alone infected 260,000 people.
What BFA knows about these harrowing statistics, however, is that they are malleable. The goal of ending mother-to-child transmissions is not, in fact, a lofty one. That’s because, if granted them, BFA has all of the resources it needs to save the lives of thousands of children today.
For example: if a mother is given access to antiretroviral therapy, the chance of HIV transmission to her child is virtually zero. One pill a day of an antiretroviral drug can save the life of an already-infected HIV-positive child. Educating communities about HIV/AIDS prevention and transmission can save lives. BFA’s power lies in its spreading of this knowledge and in mobilizing the efforts of policy-makers, governments and donors to implement—and accelerate—these known solutions.
BFA understood that it cannot reach its goal without widespread help, and it has tapped into an unlikely resource: the online shopping world. By partnering with Shopbop.com—an online shopping site—Vogue and 22 top designers such as Prada and Diane Von Furstenberg, BFA has created an online collection of items that are available for purchase, from which 100 percent of the profits go directly to BFA’s initiatives in Africa. From t-shirts and bags to baby bibs and dresses, the collection is extensive, and shoppers have the satisfaction of knowing that 100 percent of their purchase goes directly to BFA. Donations may also be made online at bornfreeafrica.org.
Though we have seen a dramatic 50 percent reduction in newly infected children since 2001—a statistic worth celebrating—BFA won’t let us stop there. The organization has created a real sense of urgency in terms of bringing the number of infected children down to zero, hence the countdown.
For many, the urgency begins with the understanding that we have the power to contribute to this cause today. By making every effort to ensure that financing is available to support HIV programs in 22 countries worldwide—and that policies are in place to both protect and implement them—BFA’s “countdown to zero” just might make history on December 31, 2015. And it’s a race worth paying attention to.
– Elizabeth Nutt