It’s not every day that news headlines inspire me or bring a smile to my face, but yesterday was the exception to the rule.  In case you missed it, Johns Hopkins Children’s Center announced that a toddler in Mississippi was “functionally cured” of HIV, creating medical history and offering hope that progress is being made to end the global AIDS epidemic.  

The baby girl was born to a mother who did not receive prenatal care and discovered at delivery that she was HIV positive. The most common way children become infected with HIV is mother-to-child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.  Often antiretroviral drugs can prevent transmission. In this case doctors intervened after delivery to administer high doses of the drugs. Two years later, tests indicate the toddler is not carrying the virus.

This story is especially exciting to me because at Coca-Cola, I manage our global communications focused on our initiatives and partnerships to help eradicate HIV/AIDS. According to UNAIDS, 330,000 infants are born with HIV every year. The majority of these cases are in developing countries where infected patients lack access to medicine and education about prevention.  That’s where companies like Coca-Cola can make a difference.

We work with (RED), The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Africare and other organizations to provide access to critical antiretroviral medicines -- like those used in the Mississippi case -- and education about the virus and how it is transmitted. We also have unique health benefits and HIV/AIDS workplace programs for our 65,000 Coca-Cola system associates in Africa, where the disease is the most prevalent.

Why does Coca-Cola want to help end HIV/AIDS?  We are a large, global company, but we are also a very local business in 207 countries. We have 700,000 system associates around the world and “people” are who make up the heart of our company:  People who work throughout our Coca-Cola system, people at other companies that touch our business and people who consume our beverages. Strong, healthy people make strong, healthy communities. These are critical ingredients for a strong, healthy business.

It’s still uncertain if this “cure” can be replicated with other children - and even if it can – it is sobering to see the statistics on the numbers of infected people around the world who lack access to antiretrovirals. Even with a full understanding of the challenges, I am overjoyed to learn of this medical breakthrough.

This one child represents the potential of so many more healthy children. Wouldn’t it be great if future generations only learned about AIDS through history books?  As our friends at (RED) say, let’s work together to “start the end of AIDS now.”

Another Coke employee shared her story of inspiration through (RED) here: (Coca-Cola)RED: Inspi(RED) by Initiative to End AIDS

April Jordin is Director of Corporate External Affairs at The Coca-Cola Company.