By Debra Messing, PSI Ambassador
Eight years ago when my son Roman Walker was born, I decided to name him after Paul Walker, my acting coach – one of the most influential, special people in my life. Eleven years prior, Paul died of AIDS complications. His death devastated me, and from that day on I vowed I would do whatever I could to honor him and help others affected by HIV and AIDS.
This week, as I participate in AIDS 2012 in Washington, D.C. I feel Paul next to me. What comforts and inspires is the knowledge that an AIDS-free generation is actually within reach. Thanks to the remarkable work of scientists, doctors, nurses, NGOs, companies, policymakers, and journalists from around the world – many of whom I have had the privilege of meeting here at AIDS 2012 – we are moving ever closer to this goal.
Three years ago, I traveled to Zimbabwe with PSI (I am an Ambassador for PSI) and UNAIDS to learn more about HIV in sub-Saharan Africa in particular. I returned to neighboring Zambia this past May.
The trips opened my eyes to the importance of both partnership and the need for a prevention approach that combines many effective tools. Yesterday, I joined panel discussion on those very topics with PSI, USAID, UNAIDS, Alere, and Chief Mumena from the Kaonde tribe in Zambia. As that panel discussion made clear, when we combine HIV interventions, such as male and female condoms, counseling and testing, reducing stigma and discrimination, male circumcision, among others, we are better positioned to counter the epidemic from every angle, not just one, and protect more lives. And no one person, or organization, or sector can do it alone. It takes all of us and all of our respective resources and expertise to get the job done.
On Wednesday evening, I am co-hosting the 2012 Impact Magazine Awards with Her Royal Highness, Crown Princess Mette Marit of Norway. The awards recognize individuals from the fields of science, government, business and media who have made a lasting impact in global health. This year, we are proud to honor seven individuals:
- Dr. Bertran Auvert – a pioneer in research on voluntary medical male circumcision, which has been shown to reduce female-to-male HIV transmission by as much as 60%.
- Ron Zwanziger - CEO of Alere, the world’s largest manufacturer of HIV testing technology and purveyor of the Make Positive More Positive Campaign to reduce stigma and discrimination.
- John Donnelly – a journalist and editor who has spent 15 years reporting on global health and HIV/AIDS for the Boston Globe, the Miami Herald, the Associated Press, and the GlobalPost
- Blessing Chebundo – the first of 60 Zimbabwe parliamentarians who undertook voluntary male circumcision this year, signaling its role in the prevention of HIV transmission.
- Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) - a career-long advocate for HIV work, first beginning as a physician in the Congo during the peak of the epidemic; recent co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus.
- Senator John Boozman (R-AR) - a strong supporter and leader for U.S. global health and development investments; the first senator to join the now bicameral and bipartisan Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus.
- Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) - Member of the House of Representatives who has served the state of California for 25 years and is now the House Democratic Leader. From her first day on Capitol Hill she has been a steadfast leader in Congress for HIV/AIDS work domestically and abroad.
Their leadership and impact, coupled with the work of countless others like them around the world, is the backbone behind the progress the global community has made to date in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Now, it’s imperative to keep that momentum going.