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Maybe Coke holds the key to HIV/AIDS solutions in Haiti

Haiti is inspirational.  It’s colorful and it’s filled with amazing people that possess incredible vibrancy and joy of spirit. Their ability to produce wonderful art, to continually create and re-create and innovate is a phenomenal.  But it’s a tough, tough place. That’s why, no matter how tired we are of hearing about suffering and hardship and chaos and disaster, we have to listen and confront the realities of those who struggle just to survive from one day to the next in Haiti and elsewhere around the globe.

Confront the reality of HIV/AIDS, for instance. Since the International HIV/AIDS Conference is being held July 22-27 in Washington, D.C, it seems timely to do so. Worldwide, tremendous strides have been made in the fight against the disease, with 22 countries seeing a 25 percent or MORE drop in incidence of new infections over the past decade.  However, in Haiti in 2010 (the most current figures available) HIV/AIDS was shown to be present in 1.9 percent of the population, more than double the global average rate. That percentage may seem small, but it represents 120,000 individuals.  One in ten of those individuals is a child.

The aftermath of the earthquake has compounded the problem tremendously.  Population displacement and the nearly complete breakdown of infrastructure have limited access to the anti-retroviral drugs necessary for survival.  According to last year’s UNAIDS report, Haiti’s own Ministry of Health estimated that fewer than 40 of those suffering from HIV/AIDS have access to treatment.  While it is unclear whether anti-retroviral therapy can actually help slow the spread of the disease, there are indications that it might.  At the very least, it eases the suffering of those afflicted when administered on a consistent basis. By the way, that means administration on a consistent basis FOR LIFE.

Just about every source out there, from the World Health Organization to the Global Fund to the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief acknowledges that increasing access is the first and biggest step on the path to conquering the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  An intriguing pilot program that has met with early and somewhat surprising success is beautiful in its simplicity.  Dr. Christophe Benn, Global Fund’s Director of Resource Mobilization and Donor Relations noticed that there were Coca-Cola bottles in the most remote villages of Tanzania.  He thought, if Coke can get their product out here, why can’t we get medicine out here too?  Thus The Global Fund forged within the past year, a partnership between Coca-Cola, Accenture, and the Tanzanian government to improve the supply chain from end to end.  Though the program is still in its infancy, it holds great promise.

As Dr. Benn noted, there are great similarities between the problems in Tanzania and those in the rest of the developing world. He believes that if the problem of access can be solved in Tanzania, the solution can be exported to other places in need. Places perhaps like Haiti.

(To learn more, watch the video explaining the program at http://www.theglobalfund.org/en/blog/29348/ )

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