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Issue Pulse: Imagining a World Without AIDS

Leaders Speak Out on Need for Further Steps to Combat HIV

Reactions to a recent speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a U.S. conference on AIDS reveal a consensus that we’ve made progress fighting the disease but there’s more work to do.

President Barack Obama makes remarks on World AIDS Day at George Washington University on Thursday, December 1, 2011, in Washington. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama makes remarks on World AIDS Day at George Washington University on Thursday, December 1, 2011, in Washington. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

See also: World AIDS Day 2011

As we mark World AIDS Day, we should remember that although we’ve had some victories in the fight against AIDS, we still have a long way to go to bring it under control.

More than 33 million people worldwide have HIV/AIDS; more than 1 million people in the United States have HIV, and more than half a million Americans have died from AIDS. In addition:

  • Women represent more than one-quarter of new HIV/AIDS cases in the United States.
  • Half of all people diagnosed with HIV in the United States are African American.
  • AIDS is the leading cause of death for African American women ages 25–34.
  • The percentage of people living with HIV in the United States who are gay or bisexual men is 49 percent.
  • In Washington, D.C., alone, at least 3 percent of people are infected with HIV/AIDS. A 1 percent infection rate is considered an epidemic.

On November 8 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for the United States to work toward the eradication of AIDS, in advance of the 2011 U.S. Conference on AIDS that ran from November 10–13. Below are excerpts from the speech and conference showing the broad support in our country for AIDS prevention and treatment around the world.

Secretary Clinton’s speech and responses to it

“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.”

“Our efforts have helped set the stage for an historic opportunity, one that the world has today: to change the course of this pandemic, and usher in an AIDS-free generation. Now by an ‘AIDS-free generation’ I mean one where first, virtually no children are born with the virus; second, as these children become teenagers and adults, they are at far lower risk of becoming infected than they would be today, thanks to a wide range of prevention tools; and third, if they do acquire HIV, they have access to treatment that helps prevent them from developing AIDS and passing the virus on to others.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a speech at the National Institutes of Health on November 8, 2011

“I’m honored to have been chosen by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as Special Envoy for Global AIDS [A]wareness. The fight against AIDS is something that has always been close to my heart. And I’m happy that I can use my platform to educate people and spread hope. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go look up what [‘]envoy[’] means.”

Ellen DeGeneres, entertainer, in a November 8 statement acknowledging her appointment

“With the 2012 International AIDS Society Conference taking place here in the U.S. in July 2012, the Obama administration has an ideal platform to take further steps to deliver on its commitments to addressing the global AIDS pandemic and make an ‘AIDS-free generation’ a reality. Mylan intends to do all it can to help by partnering with the administration, the U.N., and others to continue to expand access to high quality, affordable antiretrovirals used in the treatment of HIV/AIDS."

Heather Bresch, president of drug company Mylan Inc., in response to Secretary Clinton’s speech

“[Secretary Clinton’s] speech could be the foundation for the U.S. administration to lead the world to end the AIDS crisis. And it raises high expectations among all those who heard it: we expect that President Obama will now take leadership and dramatically ramp up [the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] antiretroviral treatment targets as well as scaling up other highly impactful prevention technologies.”

Matthew Kavanagh, director of U.S. Advocacy for the Health Global Access Project, an organization of AIDS and human rights activists in the United States

The 2011 U.S. Conference on AIDS

“These next few years are the most critical yet in our long race to a cure. We are closer than ever but with these new challenges [access to treatment, awareness of infection, rise of infection in Latino and African American gay men, and the current economic crisis], we have even more work to do. The LGBT community and our allies must sound the alarm again, just as we did nearly 30 years ago. This week’s conference is doing just that as it is drawing new attention to this ongoing fight.”

Modesto Tico Valle, Center on Halsted CEO, in his article on the conference for The Huffington Post. The Center on Halsted is an LGBT community center located in Chicago.

“I no longer see HIV as a lethal virus. Advances in prevention, monitoring and treatment have turned it into a chronic illness, so that I, and others with HIV, can live a full and happy life. I can plan for my future over the long-term and go about fulfilling my dreams, which is something I couldn’t imagine doing a few years ago.”

Paul Hempel, Alere senior vice president in a press release on the launch of the company’s Make (+) More Positive Campaign, which took place during the 2011 United States Conference on AIDS. Alere is a health care company that provides both products and services.

The work that still must be done

“[D.C.] rates are higher than West Africa. They’re on par with Uganda and some parts of Kenya.”

Shannon L. Hader, director of Washington, D.C.’s HIV/AIDS Administration

“There’s a new generation who have never known a world without AIDS, and it can too easily become part of the background noise, something that we accept as inevitable. I’m telling you right now, it’s not inevitable. Nobody has to die this way.”

“Today you see the worst HIV increases amongst people who are made to feel the most shame by society: Young gay people, prisoners, injection drug users, and victims of racism amongst African American and Latino communities. The answer to shame is love. If we want to hear that alarm clock telling them that they are in danger of the HIV virus, I believe we have to deal with the anger and abuse that can make people deaf and self-destructive in the first place.”

“Too many of us don’t know our HIV status. Given how many gay people carry the virus, we’re not getting tested nearly enough.”

“HIV prevention and research are investments that pay for themselves. Cutting back on them saves nothing and costs lives.”

David Furnish, chairman of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, keynote speaker at the U.S. Conference on AIDS on November 10, 2011

"We just have to keep at it, steady, persistent, today, tomorrow, and every day until we get to zero. And as long as I have the honor of being your president, that’s what this administration is going to do. That’s my pledge—my commitment—to you. And that has to be our promise to each other —because we have come so far; we have saved so many lives. We might as well finish the fight.”

President Barack Obama, at George Washington University on December 1 to mark World AIDS Day

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