By Sandra Bird, Health Officer, USAID
Prior to joining the Foreign Service at USAID, I worked on global HIV/AIDS issues at both governmental and nongovernmental organizations. My first project site visit was more than a decade ago, but I can recall it vividly even now. It was my first trip to Africa, and I was excited to experience firsthand what I had only read about in reports. On the second day in Kenya, my colleagues and I headed to Kibera, a slum district of Nairobi and the largest slum area in Africa. Walking through Kibera from house to house, we visited beneficiaries of HIV/AIDS programs. We stopped to talk to a young woman whom I will call Grace (not her real name) who told us that she was infected with HIV and tuberculosis. Grace was raising four children on her own; her husband had left them when she told him that she was HIV-positive. Despite these hardships, Grace showed so much courage, determination and optimism for herself and her children. We were all very touched by Grace’s story—one that I still hold close to me.
Now as a first-tour Health Officer in Ukraine, I am eager to continue learning about HIV/AIDS issues in the context of this fascinating country. Ukraine is experiencing the most severe HIV/AIDS epidemic in Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, with an HIV prevalence rate of 0.76 percent in adults aged 15-49 in 2011. For almost a decade, the United States Government (USG) and the Government of Ukraine (GOU) have partnered to combat HIV/AIDS. Specifically, the USG supports efforts to reduce the transmission and impact of HIV/AIDS by raising awareness, expanding access to quality prevention, treatment, care and support services for HIV/AIDS patients and those most at risk, and developing the capabilities of public and nongovernmental organizations to plan, manage and evaluate HIV/AIDS programs. I feel grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to the ongoing work of USG and GOU in this important health area.
Working Together for an AIDS-Free Generation is the theme of World AIDS Day this year. On this World AIDS Day, let us not only recognize those infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS, but understand that HIV/AIDS impacts all of us in one way or another. With continued efforts of the global community to fight HIV/AIDS, there remains the hope—the same hope that Grace had for her children and their future—for an AIDS-free generation.