Next month, the United States will host the world’s largest AIDS conference for the first time in more than 20 years. More than 20,000 people are expected to gather in Washington, D.C. for AIDS 2012. The top U.S. official on HIV/AIDS says much progress has made against the disease over the past three decades.
Both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have said that an AIDS-free generation is within reach. U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Eric Goosby is leading the effort to reach that goal.
“These words from the president and the secretary were based on a series of scientific discoveries primarily funded by the United States which have become game changers over the course of the past year. And because of the science the world will come together at AIDS 2012 to say that we’re turning the tide. That’s the theme of the conference. A tide that once overwhelmed the world is now a tide that is uniting the world. Hope is truly taking the place of despair,” he said.
Recent advances include promising vaccine, microbicide and treatment research.
In the early 1980s, in San Francisco, Goosby says he experienced the grief and loss brought by HIV/AIDS. With no treatment available, hundreds of his patients died from a then still mysterious disease. That changed in the mid-90s when the first antiretroviral drugs became available and saved lives.
Then came Africa
Goosby then turned his attention to sub-Saharan Africa. It was very different situation there.
“AIDS was wiping out a generation and reversing health gains in Africa. Hospitals were completely overwhelmed by the massive volume of dying patients – people. These were routinely multiple people in a bed, people on the floor. They weren’t getting the antiretroviral that was available here in the United States and Europe, so HIV infection was truly a death sentence,” he said.
Goosby said that AIDS “threatened the very foundations of African society.”
“It wiped out people in the prime of their lives when they should have been caring for their families. It created millions of orphans unable to attend school without the support provided by their parents,” he said.
What’s more, the disease brought economic growth to a halt in many countries. He says they were then trapped in a cycle of poverty.
“That in turn created societal instability leading the U.N. Security Council to identify AIDS as a security issue in 2001,” he said.
Today, however, HIV/AIDS is no longer a certain death sentence in sub-Saharan Africa thanks to greater access to life saving drugs.
Goosby said, “A decade ago, almost no one in Africa was receiving treatment. Now 6.6 million – men, women and children – are on antiretroviral therapy in developing countries with the vast majority of them being in sub-Saharan Africa.”
That’s due in large part to PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The program began under President George W. Bush and continues under President Obama. Dr. Goosby is the man in charge of PEPFAR.
“It’s almost impossible to overstate America’s contribution. Through PEPFAR, as of last year, the United States supports nearly 4 million people on treatment. That’s up from 1.7 million in 2008, showing continued rapid expansion even during these tight budget times,” he said.
Last year, PEPFAR helped provide drugs to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV to 660,000 women. What’s more, it supported testing and counseling for 40 million people in 2011.
PEPFAR, along with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, has funded numerous programs in the developing world. In doing so, many national healthcare systems have been strengthened.
Goosby says the know-how exists to achieve an AIDS-free generation.
“We know what must be done to end this epidemic and I have great hope that we can do it and get it done. Hope that we see in the science that guides our efforts – hope that we see as the world unites to turn the tide against this devastating disease. Hope that has taken the place of despair. Hope that keeps everyone in this room pushing forward, getting up and doing it again,” he said.
Ambassador Goosby made his remarks at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C.
The last time the U.S. hosted the International AIDS Conference was in 1990 in San Francisco. A major reason for that was the travel ban the U.S. imposed on those infected with HIV. President Bush began action to lift the ban and President Obama took the final steps when he took office.
The 19th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) will be held from July 22 to the 27.