Many people hear it’s World AIDS Day and brace themselves for a barrage of depressing statistics. Instead, let me throw you a curve ball: We have made impressive progress in the fight against AIDS, and should celebrate our successes.
Don’t misunderstand—we still have a long way to go and should not feel complacent. Thirty three million people are HIV-positive, 22 million of them in Africa. Worldwide, HIV/AIDS is the No. 1 killer of women.
In just 10 years, the price of antiretroviral drugs was reduced from $12,000 to $170, making them far more accessible to those who need them. And the numbers of AIDS-related deaths and HIV infections have recently declined for the first time.
But, as of May 2009, 4 million HIV-positive people had access to the antiretroviral medicines that keep them alive and allow them to lead productive lives. In just 10 years, the price of these drugs was reduced from $12,000 to $170, making them far more accessible to those who need them. And the numbers of AIDS-related deaths and HIV infections have recently declined for the first time.
And there is (PRODUCT) RED—a pioneering movement I support that enables consumers to save lives by making informed purchases. To date, (PRODUCT) RED has generated more than $140 million to fight AIDS in Africa. One hundred percent of this money has improved lives—helping more than 80,000 HIV-infected pregnant mothers receive treatment that helps their babies be born healthy, and providing testing and counseling to 3.5 million people.
It can be difficult to believe that our efforts—buying a (RED) T-shirt, iPod, or laptop—make that kind of a difference, but small amounts of money can be the difference between life and death. Just 40 cents a day provides one HIV-positive person the antiretroviral treatment that keeps him or her alive. Twenty six dollars a day prevents the transmission of HIV from mother to child.
These successes should inspire us to work even harder to reach the 3.8 million people in sub-Saharan Africa who don’t yet have access to antiretroviral therapy. On this day, World AIDS Day, please remember that while progress has been made, there are still people suffering needlessly. But if we make smart choices, we can change lives.
John Legend is a six-time Grammy winning recording artist and a social activist named to the 2009 Time 100 list of the world's most influential people.