This Can Be Done: The Private Sector’s Role in Eliminating Mother-to-Child-Transmission of HIV

As it does each September, the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) convenes this month in New York City to wrestle with the most pressing issues of our time. Nearly five years ago at this event, global leaders made a historic commitment: to end HIV infections among children by 2015 and to keep their mothers alive (known as the Global Plan). The private sector — in partnership with multilateral organizations, technical partners, donor and implementer governments and civil society — immediately stepped up to achieve these goals. It has since played a critical role in driving progress.

Without a generation born free of HIV, the world has no hope of eliminating AIDS as a public health threat. To achieve this necessary first step on the road to ending AIDS, the Global Plan focused on the 22 countries in which 90% of new HIV infections in children occur. It set out two goals to be achieved by the end of 2015: reducing the number of new HIV infections in children by 90%; and reducing the number of HIV-related maternal deaths by 50%.

The collaboration around the Global Plan has shown what is possible when a group of stakeholders from across various sectors come together, contributing resources to address a critical issue. The private sector’s contributions to this effort are varied but invaluable. Certainly, businesses and private foundations have generously provided financial resources for the fight. Beyond that, the private sector has contributed technical assistance, knowledge and capacity building and has become an integral partner in the collective effort to achieve the Global Plan’s objectives.

As a result of a collaborative approach, remarkable progress toward eliminating mother-to-child-transmission of HIV has been achieved: the number of new HIV infections among children has declined by 58 percent. And, over the last five years, there has been a 29% decline in the number of AIDS related deaths among woman of reproductive age.

But the Global Plan was conceived of as a time-limited approach, intended to bring focus to this critical issue at a particular juncture. And, despite having made impressive strides, mother-to-child transmission of HIV will not be eliminated by December 2015 when the Plan sunsets. We still have much work to do to achieve this goal. To that end, ensuring that elimination of mother-to-child-transmission of HIV is a focus within the sustainable development agenda is imperative.

Between 2012 and 2013, the pace of progress in reducing new HIV infections among children across the 22 highest burden countries slowed substantially. While a number of countries made impressive gains, others stagnated or even lost ground. We will need to redouble our efforts in countries that are currently below plan target, applying the techniques used effectively in other nations. And, as Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michele Sidibe has said, “We will not reach our goal of zero new HIV infections among children without the passion and determination of the world’s business leaders.”  Through its resources, expertise, and innovation, the private sector is able to help implement and scale-up best practices as well as leverage them across all 22 Global Plan priority countries and beyond.

At the M.A.C AIDS Fund, we are constantly asking ourselves how we can make the biggest difference and target our resources to address the key drivers of HIV in vulnerable populations. Since 1994, M.A.C Cosmetics has dedicated 100 percent of the selling price of Viva Glam products to the M.A.C AIDS Fund to support programs for men, women, and children affected by HIV and AIDS around the world. Since that time, the campaign has raised over $380 million; more than $16 million has been targeted to prevention of mother-to-child transmission.

Bilaterals and multilaterals will not be able to end the epidemic alone. M.A.C and other private sector organizations can play catalytic and leadership roles, providing real world examples of how business can contribute to ending AIDS. Combining the spirit and energy of fashion with the endorsement of a committed set of celebrity spokespeople is one example of how the private sector can play a unique role in raising awareness of and funds for much-needed programs around the world. But there are countless other ways for innovative approaches like this.

Global health experts are targeting 2030 as the deadline for ending AIDS as a public health threat. Doing so will be much more challenging if not impossible if we do not focus on children and their mothers. And, as then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a 2012 speech: “You cannot have development in today’s world without partnering with the private sector.”

As world leaders gather this week at the Sustainable Development Summit, I urge them to continue to place a high level of attention on efforts to eliminate mother-to-child-transmission of HIV. I also urge the private sector to continue to play a key role in this effort. We have a responsibility to be a part of the global world in which we operate. Together, we can get this done.

About the Author:

As a Senior Vice President at M•A•C and Executive Director of the M•A•C AIDS Fund, Nancy Mahon serves as a member of the brand’s senior management team while overseeing the strategic direction and day-to-day operation of the M•A•C AIDS Fund. Under Nancy’s leadership, the Fund has further refined and enhanced its giving, taking on larger grant initiatives including the Caribbean Initiative, while at the same time continuing to fund the grassroots service-based charities that the Fund has supported in the past. Currently, the Fund gives away over $35 million annually throughout the world, particularly in the 67 countries in which M•A•C has affiliates. Prior to joining M•A•C in June 2006, Nancy was Executive Director of God’s Love We Deliver (GLWD), the nation’s oldest and largest provider of life-sustaining nutritional support services for people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other serious illnesses. Under Nancy’s leadership, GLWD expanded its mission, doubled its client numbers to over 1,600 people per day and undertook numerous local and national public relations and advocacy campaigns. – See more at: