Global HIV/AIDS is the greatest health crisis of our time. Currently, close to 40 million people harbor HIV, of whom 95 percent live in resource-poor areas. Daily, this number translates into 14,000 new HIV cases and 8,500 deaths from AIDS. Even before the HIV/AIDS pandemic hit, those in resource-poor areas had weak and understaffed health systems.
In January 2003 President Bush announced the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which is directed at 15 countries that are home to half of the world's HIV-infected people. PEPFAR's "2-7-10" goals are to treat 2 million infected people with antiretroviral therapy, prevent 7 million new HIV infections, and care for 10 million people who are infected with HIV or affected by it. This comprehensive, five-year strategy is part of the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act, which Congress passed in 2003.
Among other measures, the legislation calls for a pilot program to test how U.S. health care professionals and others with technical expertise could help meet the "2-7-10" goals through public service abroad. The federal Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator asked the Institute of Medicine to study options for placing such workers in the 15 focus countries.
The resulting report, Healers Abroad: Americans Responding to the Human Resource Crisis in HIV/AIDS, recommends that the federal government create and fund an umbrella organization called the United States Global Health Service (GHS) to mobilize the nation's best health care professionals and other experts to help combat HIV/AIDS in hard-hit African, Caribbean, and Southeast Asian countries.
Full-time, salaried professionals would make up the organization's pivotal "service corps," working side by side with other colleagues already on the ground to provide medical care and drug therapy to affected populations while offering local counterparts training and assistance in clinical, technical, and managerial areas. The proposal's goal is to build the capacity of targeted countries to fight the pandemic over the long run. The dearth of qualified health care workers in many low-income nations is often the biggest roadblock in mounting effective responses to public health needs.