After many years of research and an estimated 25 million deaths worldwide, the end of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is finally a possibility — but making this possibility a reality requires our collective support and action.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out her vision of an “AIDS-Free Generation”– a plan that builds on the United States’ previous global health efforts and seeks to prevent the spread of AIDS through three major actions.

First, the U.S. and its global partners will provide pregnant mothers who have HIV/AIDS with anti-retroviral medication to ensure that HIV/AIDS is not passed on to their newborn babies — a method that is nearly 100 percent effective at preventing mother-to-child transmission.

Second, the U.S. will increase global health funding for voluntary male circumcisions — a procedure that decreases female-to-male transmission by more than 60 percent, according the U.S. State Department.

Most significantly, the U.S. will also increase access to anti-retroviral medications for people currently living with HIV/AIDS. Aside from literally saving people’s lives and allowing people with HIV to continue living productively, these drugs also help to ensure that people with HIV do not pass the virus on to others. This past summer, the National Institutes of Health conducted a multinational study known as HPTN-052, which showed definitively that providing anti-retroviral medication to people infected with HIV leads to a 96 percent reduction in HIV transmission. This result is powerful and profound. It suggests that by simply giving anti-retroviral medication to people currently living with HIV/AIDS, we can actually stop the virus’s spread — ending AIDS.

Through these three strategies, it is possible to end AIDS, but Secretary Clinton’s approach will require increased financial support. Unfortunately, current budget deficit reduction talks are hinting toward substantial cuts in global health funding. Contrary to what you have probably been led to believe, the United States actually spends less than 2 percent of its budget on foreign assistance, and even less on global health initiatives, so cutting global health funding will not help to substantially reduce the deficit.

To the contrary, increasing the amount we spend on anti-retroviral medication is actually a very good investment. According to peer-reviewed forecasts from the Harvard School of Public Health and several other prominent institutions, spending $14.2 billion on anti-retroviral medication for the people who receive medication from PEPFAR and the Global Fund will most likely lead to a return of $20 billion to $25 billion from 2011 to 2020. If we increase our funding beyond these levels, it is likely that even larger sums of money can be saved.

So, whether you believe in helping others in need or believe in making sensible investments that will reduce our government’s long-term costs, working now to end HIV/AIDS simply makes sense. Working together, we can put an end to a virus that continues to kill thousands of our fellow Americans, and millions more throughout the world. Please join with me and help to ensure that Secretary Clinton’s vision of an “AIDS-Free Generation” becomes a reality.

Soon, our state’s senators and representatives will vote on deficit reduction proposals, so we must make it clear that cutting global health funding is morally wrong and economically misguided. Secretary Clinton’s speech presented a wonderful vision, but it unfortunately did not set firm treatment targets for this new path forward; we therefore must work to ensure that the Obama administration and Maine’s politicians commit to pursuing aggressive treatment targets.

Begin by calling Sen. Olympia Snowe’s and Sen. Susan Collins’ offices to openly voice your support for global health funding; write articles for your local newspapers to ensure that your fellow citizens understand the consequences of cutting global health funding; create Facebook posts to raise awareness; and get involved in any other way possible. As Secretary Clinton said in Tuesday’s speech: “An AIDS-free generation would be one of the greatest gifts the United States could give to our collective future.”

My fellow Mainers, do anything you can to make sure this gift becomes a reality. Whether you believe in helping others in need or believe in making sensible investments that will reduce our government’s long-term costs, working now to end HIV/AIDS simply makes sense.

– Special to the Press Herald