In 2003, Ray Chimatira was a young medical with little interest in public health. That same year, he lost his sister to HIV and all that changed. Shortly after finishing his residency, he joined the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Over the next decade, he would go on to lead HIV prevention and treatment efforts throughout sub Saharan Africa. Today, he leads South Africa’s HIV Care and Treatment effort for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he oversees a program with stunning achievements and fierce challenges. While South Africa has the largest burden of HIV in the world, it also has the largest treatment effort in the globe, with more than 4 million people with HIV on treatment. Despite this, more than a million people living with virus in the country don’t know their status and aren’t on treatment. Finding these individuals and getting and keeping them on treatment is a race of endurance.
“It all begins with the data,” says Chimatira. It’s a message he repeats daily as he makes his rounds to hundreds of clinics across this vast country, racing to capture the most precise data at the district, community, and country levels. For Chimatira, these data, allow him and his CDC colleagues to know what to do and where to go next to ultimately control the spread of HIV. “We can end this epidemic,” he insists. “Millions of lives are at stake.” As for his sister he says: “I think she would be proud. I think wherever she is – she would be proud of the work I’ve done.”