I’ve just returned from my first visit to Rwanda, where (RED) funds have been hard at work. A friend once told me that Rwanda either breaks your heart or fills you with hope. I came away hopeful.
In May 2006, Rwanda became the first country to receive (RED) money through the Global Fund. The announcement was made at a press conference in Kigali by Bono and Richard Feachem, the then-Executive Director of the Fund. In those days, just 28 months ago, up to six people shared single beds in Kigali Hospital’s HIV/AIDS wards. Conditions were so bad that visiting the Kigali wards was itself a health risk. As Bono said at the time, the conditions were "obscene."
In the two-plus years since that announcement, the Global Fund has wired more than $22 million of (RED) money to Rwanda. Last week, I visited the same clinic — the Treatment Research and AIDS Center (or TRAC) — to witness, first hand, the impact of that funding. The effect has been transformational.
We walked through TRAC wards to see that adults and children no longer share beds. Increased funding for HIV/AIDS has allowed TRAC’s Director, Dr Anita Asiimwe, to lighten case loads by referring clients to other clinics closer to homes, where they are able to receive follow-up care and antiretroviral medication. TRAC is clean, well-staffed and well-managed.
Later, we visited a young woman named Denyse at her home in Kigali. Bono first met her in May of 2006. At that time, Denyse was in the pediatric hospital, emaciated, almost skeletal from AIDS. She’s now ten, healthy and doing well in school. Her mom, Esperance, and father, Dennis, can hardly contain their joy at having their daughter’s future restored.
In 2007, Dr Agnes Binagwaho, the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for the Fight Against HIV/AIDS in Rwanda, described (RED) as the "middle piece" to Rwanda’s economic development. She explained that before (RED), she and her colleagues weren’t sure if additional funds would be available to support HIV and AIDS work. They were worried that what they had built would crumble if money dried up. But, as she said, "(RED) monies ensured the sustainability of Rwanda’s efforts. (RED) brought the positive energy back, allowing creativity and innovation to flow again." It was the middle piece "upon which we could place the next floor of upwards progress."
Rwanda has seen true horror and unimaginable suffering. The genocide in 1994 saw an estimated 1,000,000 people slaughtered in 100 days — ten thousand people a day. This history makes Rwanda’s ambition to have a middle-class economy by 2020 all the more impressive and all the more daunting. (RED) money is helping the country achieve its healthcare goals, which in turn enables the Government to embark upon an equally impressive and ambitious economic growth strategy.
Some of their results so far:
In 2003, when the first Global Fund grant was made to Rwanda, 5 percent of the population was HIV-positive, while 11.6 percent of pregnant women were testing positive for HIV in antenatal clinics in 2002. By the end of 2003, 22,000 people had died from AIDS and 160,000 children between the ages of 0 to 17 had been orphaned as a result of the pandemic1.
That HIV prevalence rate is now down to 3 percent for adults amongst Rwanda’s 9 million inhabitants. Among the recent improvements in Rwanda’s HIV response is the expansion of services for preventing HIV transmission from mothers to children. In addition, more male partners are attending prevention of mother-to-child transmission services with their wives and girlfriends. According to one study, the percentage of men doing so increased from 9 percent in 2003 to 74 percent at the end of 20062.
Rwanda has achieved the highest coverage of any low-income country in 2007 for both antiretroviral therapy (71 percent up from 1 percent in 2003) and prevention of mother-to-child transmission (55 percent). This increased coverage has been aided by a 40-fold increase in the number of antiretroviral treatment (ART) sites across the country3 and (RED) can take some of the credit for helping the Government.
When people ask me what I do at (RED), I tell them that we are trying to build a sustainable brand that translates easily for consumers. If you buy an Apple (PRODUCT)RED iPod nano, for the same price as a "regular" Apple iPod nano, $10 goes directly to the Global Fund. If one million people buy the (PRODUCT)REDversion, then $10 million goes directly to the Global Fund. The same basic math applies to all of our other "Partner products" from Gap t-shirts to Hallmark greeting cards to Dell computers to Windows software.
It is one thing to describe our business model. It is quite another to see its impact. I’ve seen the impact in Rwanda. What (RED) asks everyone to do is consider the (RED) choice when that purchase option presents itself. You can visit our website to see all of our partner products.
1 UNAIDS, 2004
2 UNAIDS Epidemic Update 2007
3 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic