WH Officials Announce IAS Conference Set for D.C. in 2012, Leaves Other Key Global AIDS Policy Questions Unanswered

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Today’s White House news conference on the Obama Administration’s global HIV/AIDS efforts did not, in fact, provide all that much news.

The main announcement came from Secretary Hillary Clinton, who said the International AIDS Society would host its 2012 conference in Washington, D.C., a step made possible by the Administration’s repeal of the HIV entry ban. That two-decades-old ban barred HIV-positive individuals from coming to the U.S., a discriminatory rule that had no basis in public health.

Its demise “is a significant victory for public health and human rights,” Dr. Elly Katabira, associate dean for AIDS research at Makerere University and president-elect of IAS, said at the White House event. To be sure, it’s great that for the first time in 22 years the IAS meeting will be held in the U.S.–in D.C. no less, a city that, as Dr. Katabira noted, has been heavily affected by the HIV epidemic.

Clinton said that PEPFAR would serve as “the cornerstone of our Global Health Initiative,” the White House proposal, first unveiled in May, which called for spending $63 billion over six years on a new global health strategy. And Jeffrey Crowley, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, said that Obama would build on PEPFAR’s success by “doubling PEPFAR funding over the next six years” as part of the GHI proposal. But Crowley didn’t elaborate, and the math behind that statement was unclear.

For now, we know that Ambassador Eric Goosby, MD, the Administration’s global AIDS coordinator, has predicted PEPFAR may be flat-funded, or nearly so, for fiscal years 2010 and 2011. And with key details of the Administration’s GHI remain under wraps, there’s still growing concern the administration will pull back from global AIDS scale up.

At today’s event, Dr. Goosby, said he would outline the five-year US global AIDS strategy later this week. The Office of the US Global AIDS Coordinator will also release some “annexes” later this week that provide more detail about the Administration’s plans to transition PEPFAR from an emergency response to a more sustainable “country-owned, country-driven” program, as Dr. Goosby put it.

“PEPFAR’s five-year strategy will focus on sustainability, programs that are country-owned and country-driven … programs that build upon our success and incorporate efficiencies,” Dr. Goosby said. 

So perhaps we’ll get some of the nitty-gritty details later this week. For now, on the eve of World AIDS Day, many critical questions about the Administration’s vision for PEPFAR and its commitment to scaling up the global AIDS initiative remain unanswered. What about funding levels? What about treatment targets? What about new evidence-based policies on needle exchange?

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