U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says improved treatment and prevention strategies have put the goal of a “AIDS-free generation” within reach world-wide. But she said to achieve the goal, the United States, other donors, and countries hard-hit by HIV/AIDS, cannot reduce their efforts or funding.
Clinton’s comments, in a speech at the U.S. National Institutes of Health near Washington, mixed hope about reaching a turning point against HIV/AIDS with apprehension about possible cuts in U.S.AIDS and related funding.
The U.S. foreign assistance program, which includes PEPFAR - the multi-billion dollar anti-HIV undertaking begun by the Bush administration, is considered a likely target for cuts as the Congress looks for ways to curb the massive U.S. budget deficit.
Clinton said anti-retroviral drugs provided through PEPFAR are keeping millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa infected with HIV/AIDS alive, and other aspects of the program have prevented millions of new infections.
She said the world would not have come this far in the struggle without the United States’ lead funding role, and that in her words, “it will not defeat AIDS without us.”
“I want the American people to understand the irreplaceable role the United States has played in the fight against HIV/AIDS. It is their tax dollars, our tax dollars, that have made this possible, and we need to keep going,” Clinton said.
Clinton said U.S.-led efforts have helped set the stage to change the course of the pandemic and usher in an AIDS-free generation, one in which virtually no children are born with the virus, the risk of being infected is lowered, and treatments are widely available that prevents HIV victims from developing AIDS and passing the virus to others.
“This goal would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. Yet today it is possible because of scientific advances, largely funded by the United States, and new practices put in place by this administration and our many partners. Now, while the finish line is not yet in sight, we now we can get there because now we know the route we need to take,” Clinton said.
Clinton said the drive to an AIDS-free generation is being driven by “combination prevention” - dramatic gains against mother-to-child transmission of the virus, voluntary medical male circumcision, which sharply reduces transmission among adults, and anti-retroviral drug treatment for infected persons.
She announced the United States is committing another $60 million to scale up the three-pronged effort and challenged others to match the undertaking.
“Some emerging powers and nations that are rich in natural resources can afford to give, but choose not to. To sit on the sidelines now would be devastating. It would cost lives and we would miss out on this unprecedented opportunity. When so many people are suffering and we have the means to help them, we have an obligation to do what we can,” Clinton said.
Clinton announced she is naming comedienne and television talk show host Ellen DeGeneres to be a special U.S. envoy for global HIV/AIDS awareness.
She noted DeGeneres has eight million followers on the social website Twitter and said she hopes she can mobilize them and her much larger TV fan base to support PEPFAR.