JEFFREY BROWN: “We can beat this disease.” So declared President Obama as he marked World AIDS Day. He pledged a stepped-up effort to reach more victims of a pandemic that began 30 years ago and has since infected an estimated 66 million people worldwide.
The president announced the initiative in Washington and raised the hope that earlier treatment and prevention would soon lead to the beginning of the end of AIDS.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Few could have imagined that we’d be talking about the real possibility of an AIDS-free generation. But that’s what we’re talking about. That’s why we’re here. And we arrived here because of all of you and your unwavering belief that we can — and we will — beat this disease.
JEFFREY BROWN: Speaking at George Washington University, the president called for distributing antiretroviral drugs to two million more people worldwide by 2013, including 1.5 million HIV-positive pregnant women.
Funding would come from savings through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief program, known as PEPFAR. President George W. Bush created the program in 2003 to provide treatment to four million people.
He joined the event today, along with President Clinton by satellite.
FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: There is no greater priority than living out the admonition to whom much is given, much is required. We are a blessed nation in the United States of America. And I believe we are required to support effective programs that save lives.
JEFFREY BROWN: President Obama’s new initiative also called for an additional $50 million for HIV treatment in the United States.
Earlier this week, the CDC released a report showing that just two in five of the more than one million Americans with HIV have their infection under control. Worldwide, some 34 million people now live with HIV/AIDS.
In South Africa, where more than 5.5 million are infected, a memorial service was held today. A nurse at one AIDS hospice center said she remains optimistic about the availability of new treatment and funding.
MARY-ANNE CARPENTER, Hillcrest AIDS Trust: So, I think we are making progress, slowly, in our country, but it’s thanks to a civil society. We fight hard for what we have got around HIV/AIDS and ARVs.
JEFFREY BROWN: But concerns in Africa and worldwide remain, particularly in the midst of a financial crisis that threatens funding cutbacks.
Just last week, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the world’s largest backer of HIV treatment and prevention programs, announced it would halt any new grants until 2014. There’s also been sobering news on the scientific front, as trials of a promising microbicide gel for HIV prevention for women in developing countries were halted after researchers saw no decrease in new infections.
Still, the tone today was optimistic, and the president called on Americans to continue to lead the way.
BARACK OBAMA: Looking back at the history of HIV/AIDS, you’ll see that no other country has done more than this country, and that’s a testament to our leadership as a country. But we can’t be complacent.
JEFFREY BROWN: The president also urged China and other emerging powers to become donors to the Global Fund.
And we will have more on the AIDS story later in the program.