Bold Actions to Fight HIV/AIDS

The Obama administration is making important moves to step up the fight against HIV/AIDS here in the United States and around the world. Through bold actions and increased funding, it’s helping to reduce new HIV infections and move us closer to the AIDS-free generation it strives to create

Funding for medications

In a landmark speech on World AIDS Day, President Obama committed an additional $50 million in the next fiscal year to help pay for treatments at AIDS clinics and for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), the in-state programs that provide medications to people who can’t afford them. The new funding is made available through the Preventive Health Trust Fund.

The extra money for ADAP is critically important in this current economic climate. In some states, people’s names are put on long waiting lists to receive assistance for their life-saving medications. In fact, of the estimated 1.2 million people living with the disease in the United States, recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that nearly three out of four lack proper care.

“The administration is listening to the needs of our community,” said Ernest Hopkins, director of legislative affairs at San Francisco AIDS Foundation. “The additional resources are the result of persistent community pressure on both the administration and the Congress to address the ADAP shortfalls. The president’s actions should signal to our community that his administration understands the important role of treatment access to both care and prevention outcomes.”

Recent studies show that when people receive early treatment for their HIV it enhances their overall health and makes them far less likely to pass the virus on to their sex partners.

Treatment as prevention

That’s why President Obama wants to make sure more people get the treatment they need as quickly as possible.

He is setting a goal to provide drug therapy to six million infected people worldwide by the end of 2013, up from less than four million right now. The goal includes increasing the number of infected pregnant women who receive drugs to prevent transmission to their newborns from 600,000 to 1.5 million.

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“Treatment as prevention works and San Francisco AIDS Foundation applauds President Obama because increased treatment means fewer new infections,” said foundation CEO Neil Giuliano. “We have always advocated that science should be our guide in fighting HIV/AIDS, and the president’s investment in treatment broadens a scientifically proven tool to stop the spread of the disease.”

Routine testing and early treatment, known as the “test and treat” model, was pioneered in San Francisco. The city’s department of public health was the first in the nation to recommend doctors offer drug therapy to people as soon as they test positive for HIV, instead of waiting until the virus begins to damage their immune systems.

Promoting gay rights

The Obama administration is also coupling science with strategic diplomacy to fight HIV/AIDS around the world.

This month Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the U.S. will use foreign assistance as well as diplomacy to promote the administration’s position that gay rights are fully equal to other basic human rights. It is a bold message to the entire world that the U.S. stands for equality for all people.

"Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights," she said. "It should never be a crime to be gay."

Clinton’s speech and the administration’s stance on this issue are critically important. We know that stigma and homophobia are significant barriers to people getting tested for HIV, accessing treatment and care when they need it, and seeking support from other people living with the disease.

Gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM), particularly men of color, bear the brunt of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. According to the Global Forum on MSM & HIV, only 39 percent of men worldwide report easy access to free condoms. Furthermore, large percentages of men say it’s difficult or impossible to access HIV testing (57 percent), HIV education materials (66 percent), and HIV treatment (70 percent).

By promoting LGBT rights and fighting discrimination and the criminalization of gay people, the Obama administration is helping to foster a global environment that will make it easier for people to know their HIV status and take care of their health.

“It cannot be understated: The actions by the administration will significantly help us in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” said Giuliano. “The research shows it, and it just makes common sense—when people are not allowed to express their sexuality without fear of violence or discrimination, they are not going to access the care they need or receive critical information about their sexual health.”

In his speech on World AIDS Day, President Obama said we can beat this disease but we have to remain steady and persistent. San Francisco AIDS Foundation could not agree more. That’s why we will continue to advocate at all levels of government to ensure our country makes wise investments and maintains the courage to end HIV/AIDS once and for all. As the president says, we have come so far and saved so many lives, we might as well finish this fight.

What do you think of the administration's new actions to fight HIV/AIDS? Is there anything else the president should be doing? The foundation has some of the best policy experts in the nation. Do you have any messages they should share with lawmakers at the city, state, or federal level?


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