By Charlene Porter,
IIP Staff Writer,
01 December 2011
President Obama celebrated World AIDS Day December 1 with a promise to broaden U.S. support for programs delivering life-saving drugs to patients with HIV infection worldwide.
In a Washington ceremony attended by prominent officials and activists who battle the disease, Obama offered thanks and congratulations for their efforts, just as he challenged them to maintain their commitment to work toward an AIDS-free generation.
“Today, we come together as a global community, across continents, faiths and cultures, to renew our commitment to ending the AIDS pandemic once and for all,” Obama said, speaking on the campus of George Washington University.
The president also boosted the goals of the United States’ global AIDS program, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
“Today, we’re setting a new target of helping 6 million people get on treatment by the end of 2013,” Obama said. “That’s 2 million more people than our original goal.”
When the United States first launched PEPFAR in 2003, increasing the availability of AIDS treatment to control the progression of the disease was a key objective. At that time, the program goal was to broaden drug delivery to 2 million people with HIV infection. In the most recent fiscal year, the Obama administration reports that the original goal has almost doubled, with 3.9 million people receiving anti-retroviral therapy.
PEPFAR began by targeting HIV/AIDS in 15 countries with serious epidemics. Now 30 nations are engaged in bilateral partnerships with the United States to address their epidemics. Regional plans are also in place in the Caribbean, Central Asia and Central America.
In his World AIDS Day speech, Obama also challenged other nations to boost their commitments and contributions to the fight against the disease. Nations that have made financial pledges to the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis need to meet those pledges, he said, and countries that have made rapid progress in expanding their national economies, such as China, now need to “step up as major donors.”
Former President George W. Bush, who proposed and won adoption of PEPFAR and the $15 billion of funding that made it work, joined the Washington event by teleconference from Tanzania, one of the countries that has benefited from the program. He said World AIDS Day is an occasion to celebrate success. “We went to a clinic and held a little baby that five years ago would likely have died or contracted AIDS. Nothing more joyful,” Bush said.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete also joined the Washington audience via teleconference. He said thousands of his citizens are alive today who otherwise would have died, and currently more than 740,000 people are receiving anti-retroviral therapy, which suppresses the virus. Kikwete also described the support given to the Tanzanian medical sector. Training and equipment provided by the United States and other international donors have improved the country’s capacity to test, diagnose and treat disease.
“We have made achievements, but there are still gaps. Some of the gaps are huge,” Kikwete said. “We need to continue to work together to save lives.”
Like Obama and Kikwete, Bush urged the American audience to continue its international support for AIDS programs in Tanzania and other nations, even though the United States is mired in high unemployment and a slow recovery from recession. “When you go through budgetary struggles, it seems like to me, the best thing to do is to set priorities and focus on that which is effective,” Bush said. “There is nothing more effective than PEPFAR.”
In his speech, President Obama appealed to the U.S. Congress to sustain its budgetary support for PEPFAR and for increased commitments in domestic efforts to contain HIV/AIDS. While the rates of new infection have declined dramatically in many places, he said, that is not so for several demographic groups in the United States, notably young homosexual African-American men. The president said he hopes to devote more funding to U.S. programs that provide care for HIV patients and provide AIDS drug assistance.