Obama: Fight Against AIDS Remains a Global Struggle

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Thursday December 1, 2011

President Barack Obama used his speech to commemorate World AIDS Day at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Dec. 1, to reaffirm the administration's commitment to fight the domestic and global epidemic.

Obama announced an additional $15 million for the Ryan White program that supports HIV medical clinics and $35 million for state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs.

"The federal government can't do this alone," said the president, stressing the need for these additional commitments. "I'm also calling on state governments, pharmaceutical companies and private foundations to do their part to help Americans get access to all the life-saving treatments."

The president also praised former President George W. Bush for his efforts to combat the global epidemic. The Bush administration committed $15 billion to the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to further combat the global AIDS epidemic. Obama described this funding as "an extraordinary legacy."

"That program - more ambitious than even leading advocates thought was possible at the time - has saved hundreds of thousands of lives, spurred international action, and laid the foundation for a comprehensive global plan that will impact the lives of millions," said Obama. "We are proud to carry that work forward."

The president also announced new targets to further combat the spread of the global epidemic. These include providing anti-retroviral drugs to more than 1.5 million pregnant women with HIV over the next two years. Obama received a sustained standing ovation when he said his administration has set a goal to get six million people with HIV on anti-retroviral treatment by the end of 2013.

"We need to keep refining our strategy so that we're saving as many lives as possible," said Obama. "We need to listen when the scientific community focuses on prevention. That's why, as a matter of policy, we're now investing in what works, from medical procedures to promoting healthy behavior

Obama joined Bush and Bill Clinton at the ONE and (RED)-sponsored forum to discuss how to end the epidemic. Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete also addressed the forum alongside Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush via satellite from a Dar es Salaam hospital.

Kikwete stressed that infection rates in the East African country have dropped from 18 percent in the 1990s to 5.8 percent. More than 740,000 Tanzanians are currently receiving life-saving anti-retroviral therapy and other care and treatment.

"With increased advocacy and education, there is increased understanding of the disease," said Kikwete.

Bush also highlighted that the George W. Bush Institute, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS and private foundations have committed at least $75 million over the next five years to expand infrastructure established under PEPFAR to fight breast and cervical cancer among women with HIV through the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon initiative.

"The number of people who are alive today through PEPFAR is staggering," said Bush. "We are required to support programs that save lives."

CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta moderated a panel that featured Florida Sen. Marco Rubio; California Congresswoman Barbara Lee; Alicia Keys; Bono; Dr. Patricia Nkansah-Asamoah, director of PMTCT Clinic at Tema Hospital in Accra, Ghana, Florence Ngobeni of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and Kay Warren, founder of the Saddleback Church's HIV and AIDS Initiative.

The forum comes less than a month after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed during a speech at the National Institutes of Health that an AIDS-free generation is indeed possible. An estimated 33 million people around the world currently live with HIV.

The Centers for Disease Control on Tuesday, Nov. 29, released a report that found less than 30 percent of the 1.2 million Americans with HIV currently have their viral load under control.

"The beginning of the end of AIDS; I like how that sounds," said Gupta. "This devastating disease, we can tackle. We can put on the run sort of speak."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.