“First let me say five words that we have not been able to say for far too long – welcome to the United States,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an audience of thousands Monday at the International AIDS Conference (IAC) in Washington, referring to the ban that was lifted in 2008 allowing HIV infected persons to enter the U.S. and paving the way for the IAC to be held in the United States for the first time in 22 years.
“I am here today to make it absolutely clear – the U.S. is committed and will remain committed to achieving an AIDS free generation – we will not back off, we will not back down, we will fight for the resources needed to achieve this historic milestone,” Clinton said.
Her speech focused on the many contributions the U.S. government has made to the fight against AIDS since the first cases emerged in the early ‘80s – to include a $1 billion investment in eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV – but reinforced the Obama administration’s message of late that the global AIDS response must be a collaborative effort that all nations contribute to. Spreading this message, she said, required difficult conversations about issues that some international leaders don’t want to face, like government corruption in the procurement and delivery of HIV drugs or dealing with injection drug users. But it’s been an essential part of helping more countries manage their own response to the epidemic.
“Since 2009 we have more than doubled the number of people that get the treatment that keeps them alive,” Clinton said, adding that there are nearly 600,000 more people on treatment through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program since September, for a total of 4.5 million on lifesaving treatment, closing in on the U.S. commitment of 6 million by the end of next year.
“That is our contribution to the global effort to reach universal coverage,” she said.
Clinton listed off other achievements – such as 400,000 voluntary medical male circumcisions (VMMCs) performed in December alone, a procedure which has been scientifically proven to reduce a man’s chances of sexually contracting HIV through vaginal sex by more than 60 percent — a protective benefit that increases over time. She announced an additional $40 million from PEPFAR that will support South Africa’s plans to provide VMMC for nearly half a million boys and men in the coming year.
She stressed that the efforts of national leaders – such as lawmakers in Zimbabwe who went to a mobile clinic to get circumcised in order to demonstrate to their constituents how safe and virtually painless the procedure is — are critical to the success of these investments. Clinton added that once the World Health Organization approves a VMMC device, which can expedite and simplify the procedure, PEPFAR will be ready to endorse it as well.
As for prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT), Clinton said PEPFAR reached more than 370,000 pregnant women with antiretroviral therapy in the first half of this fiscal year, and an additional 1.5 million women will receive services by next year. She also announced a new $80 million investment to support innovative approaches to ensure that HIV infected pregnant women can access the treatment they need to protect themselves, their babies and their partners – access which is sometimes hindered by referrals to other health clinics that are difficult to get to.
Stay tuned for more on this speech…