June 10, 2011— -- Former President Bill Clinton joined U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan at the United Nations Thursday to launch a global plan that aims to eliminate new HIV infections among children by 2015.
"Countdown to Zero," as the plan is called, will focus on 22 countries with the highest numbers of pregnant women living with HIV.
The countries are Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
"There are still too many babies born with HIV," Clinton said, addressing world leaders in attendance. "The time has come to end pediatric AIDS worldwide. We know we can do it."
Reaching zero HIV transmission will require greater resources allocated to the fight against HIV, more financial investment and more access to essential supplies, many observers say. Under the plan, each country will come up with a cost for the resources needed to eliminate new HIV infections among children by 2015. Domestic investments will also be increased to step up efforts toward tackling the epidemic.
"We are here today to ensure that all children are born healthy and free of disease. We are here to ensure that their mothers live to see them grow," Ban Ki-moon said at the launch.
Find out how to make a difference for mothers and babies around the world with the Million Moms Challenge.
The goal is to mobilize national and global leaders in providing adequate resources -- human and financial -- to enable, empower and support women by providing access to HIV prevention, treatment and care so that their children are born HIV-free.
For 28-year-old Claire Gasamagera of Rwanda, the global mobilization efforts are personal. She was born with the HIV virus, having contracted it from her mother, who died shortly after her birth.
A Child Born With HIV Every Minute
"No child wants to be born with HIV," Claire told ABC News. "My parents were not poor. They were both educated, no one would have thought they would have a child with HIV."
With proper antiretroviral drugs medication (ARV), Claire will have a normal life, including having her future children born without the HIV virus.
"I want to have children. I want two," she said.
Significant progress has been made in the past decade in reducing mother-to-child transmission, with infection rates among children born to mothers living with HIV having declined by 26 percent from 2001 to 2009, according UNAIDS.
Still, more than 1 million pregnant women are living with HIV worldwide and a child is born with HIV every minute.
In Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, addressing the epidemic means not just access to ARV, but also tackling the stigma associated with having HIV. President Jonathan announced not only his support for the plan but an additional bill to end discrimination against the people with the virus, a problem that has been as widespread as the pandemic itself within Nigeria.
"The time is now for Africa to take the lead," Jonathan said.
The launch of the global plan is one of several events taking place this week as part of the three-day, high-level meeting of the General Assembly on AIDS, which began Wednesday.