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July 27, 2012

Clinton says ‘an AIDS-free generation’ can be reality

Washington, D.C.--The 19th International AIDS Conference was greeted by several high-ranking members of the Obama administration.

Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, opened the conference on July 22, welcoming everyone in attendance.

“And I want to give a special welcome to those living with HIV/AIDS who’ve traveled here from around the world,” she said. “The HIV entry ban was a bad policy, based on faulty science, that ran contrary to America’s deepest values. We are proud that the Obama administration overturned it, and we are proud to be your hosts once again.”

It was the first time since 1990 that the conference has been held in the United States. That year, it was in San Francisco. Since then, it has been to Canada twice and once to Mexico, since neither country had a policy in place barring people with HIV from entering the country.

“The last time this conference was held on American soil, there was no effective treatment for HIV. Today, someone diagnosed with HIV and treated before the disease is far advanced can have a nearly normal life expectancy,” Sebelius noted, pointing also to plummeting infections among IV drug users and pediatric cases. “These gains have been accompanied by long-awaited breakthroughs in science, including the recent finding that treatment itself is among the best forms of prevention. As a result, we’ve reached a point where the goal of an AIDS-free world, once a far-off dream, is now within sight.”

She pointed, however, to the staggering rates of HIV among African Americans. In Washington, D.C., one in 16 black men has HIV, and the infection rate among black women is on the rise. HIV infection rates among black gay men in the United States are the worst of any group in the developing world, according to a report released by the Black AIDS Institute ahead of the conference.

Sebelius also noted that treatment for those affected around the world is not where the administration would like it to be, and announced that 150 antiretrovirals are now available through PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief, a George W. Bush-era program continued by President Obama.

On July 23, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke to the conference, welcoming attendees back to the United States. She was sanguine about the state of AIDS in the world today, but hopeful as well.

“Yes, AIDS is still incurable, but it no longer has to be a death sentence,” Clinton said. “That is a tribute to the work of countless people around the world--many of whom are here at this conference, others who are no longer with us but whose contributions live on.”

She pointed to a series of events, begun under her husband’s administration when the price of HIV medications began to drop, and noted the 2003 introduction of PEPFAR and the Obama administration’s continued support for the program.

“PEPFAR is shifting out of emergency mode and starting to build sustainable health systems that will help us finally win this fight and deliver an AIDS-free generation. It’s hard to overstate how sweeping or how crucial this change is,” she said.

That phrase, “AIDS-free generation,” has been a rallying call for Clinton since the World AIDS Day events last December.

“Let me begin by defining what we mean by an AIDS-free generation,” she explained. “It is a time when, first of all, virtually no child anywhere will be born with the virus. Secondly, as children and teenagers become adults, they will be at significantly lower risk of ever becoming infected than they would be today no matter where they are living. And third, if someone does acquire HIV, they will have access to treatment that helps prevent them from developing AIDS and passing the virus on to others.”

She also outlined three pillars of the government’s current strategy: treatment as prevention, which was accompanied with the announcement a week earlier that the FDA had approved an HIV treatment regimen as a prophylactic against infection; voluntary male circumcision and efforts to halt in-utero transmission of HIV.

Clinton gave dozens of examples from across Africa, where PEPFAR funding is a good part of the money involved in the fight against HIV, including Zambia, where mother-to-child transmission is a main target of efforts, and politicians in Zimbabwe who went to a mobile clinic for circumcisions to illustrate how quick and safe the procedure is.




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