President Obama Promises Action with New HIV Strategy

HIV/AIDS Plan Includes No New Funding; Coordinates Local, National Efforts


WASHINGTON, July 13, 2010

President Obama said tonight that his administration's new strategy to fight HIV/AIDS in this country will be a critical step to tackling "a tragedy that is preventable."

"The question is not whether we know what to do, but whether we will do it," the president said at a White House reception to honor the work of the HIV/AIDS community.

The Obama Administration unveiled its national strategy today to reduce the annual number of HIV infections in the United States and improve health care for those currently living with HIV or AIDS.

"Fighting HIV/AIDS in America and around the world will require more than just fighting the virus. It will require a broader effort to make life more just and equitable for the people who inhabit this Earth," he said.

Obama promised the reception attendees that they had a "partner" in him and his administration.

"We're here because we believe that while HIV transmission rates in this country are not as high as they once were, every new case is one case too many," he said. "We're here because we believe in an America where those living with HIV/AIDS are not viewed with suspicion, but treated with respect; where they're provided the medications and health care they need; where they can live out their lives as fully as their health allows."

Earlier today, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the HIV plan "has an ambitious vision."

"That vision is that the United States should be a place where new HIV infections are rare, and when they do occur every person, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gander identity, or socioeconomic circumstances will have unfettered access to high-quality life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination."

Every year approximately 56,000 people in the United States become infected with HIV. There are currently more than 1.1 million Americans living with HIV.

In a 45-page report, the White House outlines its plan to reduce the annual number of HIV infections by 25 percent within five years, and increase the percentage (from 65 to 85 percent) of newly-diagnosed patients who receive care within three months of their diagnoses.

White House' HIV/AIDS Plan

The plan centers around three main points: reducing the number of new HIV infections, increasing access to care and optimizing health outcomes for those living with HIV, and ensuring equality in care for HIV.

"The goals aren't necessarily new," Secretary Sebelius said today, " but the strategy for achieving them is new."

The strategy is meant to be a roadmap to guide coordinated efforts to combat the nation's HIV epidemic, by bringing together state and local governments, business, faith communities, the science and medical communities, charities, education institutions and Americans living with HIV.

The White House also announced today that the 2012 International National AIDS Conference would be held in Washington DC, the first conference held in the United States on AIDS in 20 years.

White House AIDS Plan: No New Money

HIV/AIDS activists said there is no new federal money in this strategy. Rather, it redirects money that has already been allocated.

"We need to do a better job of scaling up interventions that work in populations that are most acutely affected," said Chris Collins, vice president and director of public policy at the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR).

"We can't expect this to be solved by a huge infusion of new resources," Sebelius said today. "So while the strategy does highlight areas of additional investment, it also identifies ways of using the resources we have more effectively."

Obama acknowledged that these are challenging times for Americans living with HIV/AIDS because the economy is forcing states are being forced to cut back on assistance for drugs.

"I know the need is great," he said. "And that's why we've increased federal assistance each year that I've been in office, providing an emergency supplement this year to help people get the drugs they need, even as we pursue a national strategy that focuses on three central goals."

The strategy calls for allocating "limited resources" by "giving much more attention and resources" to populations that are at the highest risk for HIV infection.

White House' HIV/AIDS Plan

Those high-risk groups include gay men, who account for 2 percent of the U.S. population but 53 percent of new HIV infections; and black men and women, who represent only 13 percent of the nation's population but account for 46 percent of people living with HIV, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Collins said there were many important lessons to be learned from the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a program started under President Bush in 2003.

PEPFAR is credited with providing treatment for 2.5 million people and preventing more than 12 million new infections. The program was hailed as a success by Democrats and Republicans. Last year $5.1 billion went to the program

One advocacy group said it was "disappointed" by the Obama Administration's pace on this issue.

Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), said there was "really no 'there' there."

"This strategy is a day late and a dollar short: 15 months in the making, and the White House learned what people in the field have known for years," Weinstein said. "There is no funding, no 'how to,' no real leadership."

The White House acknowledged today that efforts in the past haven't always been realistic.

"In the past there have been efforts to set, quite frankly, really aggressive goals to cutting infections in half," White House Director of the Office of National HIV/AIDS Policy Jeffrey Crowley said, " So I think that setting a goal of 25 percent is aggressive but realistic. I wish I could tell you that we could set a goal of 65, 75 percent. I just don't know how that we do that in the short term."