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Let's work for AIDS-free children by 2015

By Djimon Hounsou, Special to CNN
  • Actor Djimon Hounsou says as an African and new father, he's sensitive to the scourge of AIDS
  • He says millions of kids die, are orphaned by or are born with AIDS in Africa
  • He's part of a new program aimed at eradicating AIDS in children by 2015
  • Hounsou: World must commit money, resources to change future for next generations

Editor's note: Djimon Hounsou is an American actor from the African nation of Benin. He has been nominated for two Academy Awards, for his roles in "Blood Diamond" and "In America."

(CNN) -- As an African man, I have always felt a sense of responsibility, not only toward my country, but to those living on the continent who face the daily challenges that poverty and disease bring.

As a new father, I have acquired an acute sensitivity to the overwhelming challenges parents in this region face in creating a future full of hope and free of disease for their children. AIDS, in particular, has ravaged the continent.

A recent report from the United Nations says that AIDS will kill half of all 15-year-olds in Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa by 2012 if something is not done soon. Nearly 14 million children have been orphaned by AIDS, and each day, nearly 1,000 children are born HIV positive -- starting life already carrying the burden of this disease.

I have seen the tragic effects of AIDS, after having my own cousin pass away because of complications from the disease. Additionally, after witnessing the devastation that AIDS has wreaked all over Africa, I feel it is imperative that I do anything and everything in my power to help.

In 2007, I had the opportunity to work with (RED) on the Africa issue of Vanity Fair that showcased the beauty of Africa. (RED) was created as a way to channel a sustainable flow of money from businesses to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Since its launch in 2006, (RED) partners and events have generated $160 million for the Global Fund, supporting HIV and AIDS programs in Africa that have reached more than 5 million people with testing, counseling, medication and services.

Today -- World AIDS Day -- I am joining them again to help launch a new campaign, the AIDS Free Generation Is Due in 2015, to raise awareness that it's possible for no child to be born with HIV by 2015. The medicines exist to stop mother-to-child transmission of HIV and to ensure that all children, no matter where they live, are not burdened from birth with this deadly virus.

The challenge is now on to ensure that every pregnant woman who needs this treatment receives it in time. The Global Fund and more than a dozen other international health organizations have committed to help make this a reality.

I have spoken on behalf of homeless and orphaned children before. I believe in providing a positive future for generations to come. I believe in hopes and dreams. We are at a crossroads where the hope of living without a disease doesn't have to be a dream or thing of fiction. It can be a reality. If we are able to stop transmission at childbirth, we are going to have an enormous impact on the future of millions of people, giving them hope where before there was only despair.

We face many challenges, of course, especially as the world continues to reel from a severe recession. In this climate, it has become more important than ever to create innovative models of giving. Public-private partnerships, matched giving, the recent pledge taken by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to give half their money away (which was adopted in August 2010 by 40 of America's wealthiest families), and yes, the innovative model pioneered by (RED) are all varied ways of giving back that utilize outside-the-box thinking to fight AIDS.

If we who have so much put our minds and hearts together, we can bring the age of HIV to an end. Creating the first AIDS-free generation in nearly 30 years is a huge step in that direction. What would be truly tragic is if we lost momentum in this fight where so much progress has been made.

As UNAIDS reported in its 2010 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, in 2009, about 370,000 children were born with HIV. This is down from 430,000 in 2008.

One thing that I have found difficult is that many people continue to think of Africa as "over there," far away from us, not just in terms of distance, but also in terms of the life experience of its people. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although Africa may feel far away, it is still a continent of millions of people who lead complex lives and have dreams and hopes and disappointments, just as we all do.

It is a place of joy and despair, ambition and drive and heartbreak. It is a place of mothers, fathers and their children. And, ultimately in this global era, all our destinies are ultimately intertwined.

Ending mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS is an exciting goal because it is real and attainable. There is no abstraction here. If we, as a global community, rally and focus a relatively small amount of needed resources, we can make a huge impact that will change the future for an entire generation and future generations. And it can happen by 2015.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Djimon Hounsou.