World AIDS Day, which we marked on Dec. 1, reminds us of the importance on international cooperation in combating infectious diseases. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that 38 million people (including 1.2 million in the U.S.) are living with AIDS, but the infection rate worldwide has declined by 40 percent since 1998. This downward trend is thanks in large part to UNAIDS, a collaboration of several UN agencies, and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief initiated by President George W. Bush. Despite this progress, much remains to be done, since AIDS prevention and treatment does not adequately reach ethnic and minority groups that are disproportionately impacted.
International cooperation and U.S. leadership are also required to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have pledged to rejoin the World Health Organization and perhaps the U.S. will participate in COVAX, the international initiative to develop COVID-19 vaccines. The incoming administration is to be commended for reasserting constructive U.S. leadership. Infectious diseases like AIDS and COVID-19 do not respect national borders; collective international action is essential.
Jim Olson, president
United Nations Association