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It was not until 1987, that President Ronald Reagan publicly mentioned AIDS, despite its emergence in the earlier part of the decade. By 1991, the HIV/AIDS epidemic was in full swing. A decade after the first cases were discovered, the disease had already begun to affect the poor and marginalized in the US and across Africa and the Caribbean. That year, Magic Johnson announced that he had tested positive for HIV and planned to retire and use his celebrity to help educate young people about the disease. The actors group, Broadway Cares, worked with several NGOs to establish the red ribbon as the international symbol of AIDS awareness. Soon after, the red ribbon was pinned to the lapels of every celebrity on the red carpet of the Academy Awards and other major celebrity. It was a turning point in winning the country’s hearts and minds to address the scourge of HIV/AIDS. The press started to pay attention. People started talking about the disease and took to the streets to advocate for funding and support for prevention, treatment and care. Today, the United States is investing tens of billions of dollars each year, and for the first time, the disease is on the decline.

As with AIDS in the early 80s, today the public is mostly unaware of the global water challenge and resulting waterborne diseases – and thus, they are neglected by governmental and private donors. More than 1 billion people on our planet lack access to clean water. As a result of limited access to water, and inadequate hygiene and sanitation a child dies every 15 seconds from diseases such as cholera. Despite the magnitude of the crisis, the United States invested only $200 million AID to fund water programs in Africa last year, less than 1/5th of the funding for other chronic and infectious diseases. We spend HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS of dollars in search of water on distant planets, but throw PENNIES at helping people access water here on earth.

Today, I am joined by a team of celebrities and global influencers brought together by singer/producer Kenna to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and raise global awareness and resources as part of Summit on the Summit. The team includes Jessica Biel, Emile Hirsh, Lupe Fiasco, Santigold and Isabel Lucas. In addition to myself, the team of educators and influencers includes Alexandra Cousteau, Elizabeth Gore, Kick Kennedy, Jimmy Chin, Michael Muller, Jason Walsh and Bernise Ang. With support from Hewlett Packard, Procter & Gamble’s PUR brand and Microsoft’s Windows 7, Eddie Bauer’s First Ascent among others, OUR GOAL is to put this issue in the eyes and ears of the public like never before…to leverage the reach of our collective celebrity and influence - and the interest in the press (and paparazzi) and have the issue of water pop-up on the pages of People Magazine, US Weekly, MTV as well as mainstream news outlets. Our job is to help amplify the outstanding and effective work of communities, NGOs and government aid organizations that are already bringing clean water to the communities in need.

Let’s be clear, Hollywood and Madison Avenue cannot save the world. But celebrities and consumer brands, like those involved on this program, can play an important role in raising awareness and galvanizing support for those issues often easily ignored in the comfort of our living rooms. At the end of day, however, the heavy lifting in addressing this issue must come from government AND FROM YOU.

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Happy trails from the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro.