US Envisions an AIDS-Free Generation

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton today stressed that the United States envisions an AIDS-Free generation.

In her remarks on “Creating an AIDS-Free Generation, Ms. Clinton said the fight against AIDS began three decades ago in June 1981. She said American scientists reported the first evidence of a mysterious new disease. It was killing young men by leaving them vulnerable to rare forms of pneumonia, cancer, and other health problems.

“AIDS has killed 30 million people around the world, and 34 million are living with HIV today. In Sub-Saharan Africa-where 60 percent of the people with HIV are women and girls-it left a generation of children to grow up without mothers and fathers or teachers. In some communities, the only growth industry was the funeral business.” -Ms. Clinton

Ms. Clinton highlighted that AIDS has been a global effort. U.S. efforts began with the American public: from people living with the disease, to researchers in academic medical centers; to individual donors, businesses, and foundations; and philanthropies which helped make treatment more affordable by supporting innovative ways to manufacture and purchase drugs; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has underwritten breakthrough research.

Ms. Clinton noted that PEPFAR is having an impact far beyond AIDS. It has expanded on the World Health Organization’s efforts to treat and prevent tuberculosis, which is the leading cause of death among people with AIDS. PEPFAR has also helped build new facilities throughout its partner countries that see patients not just for HIV/AIDS, but for malaria and for immunizations.

“PEPFAR is one of the strong platforms upon which the Obama Administration is building our Global Health Initiative, which supports one-stop clinics offering an array of health services while driving down costs, driving up impact, and saving more lives.” -Ms. Clinton

She stressed that the U.S. govenrment has done it in an ever-expanding partnership with other governments, multilateral institutions, implementing organizations, the private sector, civil society groups, especially those led by people living with the virus.

“What’s more, our efforts have helped set the stage for a historic opportunity, one that the world has today: to change the course of this pandemic and usher in an AIDS-free generation.” -Ms. Clinton

Ms. Clinton explained that by an AIDS-free generation means virtually no children are born with the virus; second, as the children become teenagers and adults, they are at far lower risk of becoming infected than they would be today; and third, if they do acquire HIV, they have access to treatment that helps prevent them from developing AIDS and passing the virus on to others.

“Now, HIV may be with us well into the future. But the disease that it causes need not be. This is, I admit, an ambitious goal, and I recognize I am not the first person to envision it. But creating an AIDS-free generation has never been a policy priority for the United States Government until today, because this goal would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.” -Ms. Clinton

Ms. Clinton stated that America’s combination prevention strategy focuses on a set of interventions that have been proven most effective – ending mother-to-child transmission, expanding voluntary medical male circumcision, and scaling up treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS. She added that the interventions can’t be successful in isolation. She said they work best when combined with condoms, counseling and testing, and other effective prevention interventions. She stressed they rely on strong systems and personnel, including trained community health workers.

“They depend on institutional and social changes like ending stigma; reducing discrimination against women and girls; stopping gender-based violence and exploitation, which continue to put women and girls at higher risk of HIV infection; and repealing laws that make people criminals simply because of their sexual orientation.” -Ms. Clinton

Ms. Clinton stressed that the U.S. government focuses on the three key interventions that can make it possible to achieve an AIDS-free generation.

“First, preventing mother-to-child transmission. Today, one in seven new infections occurs when a mother passes the virus to her child. We can get that number to zero. I keep saying zero; my speechwriter keeps saying “Virtually zero.”And we can save mother’s lives too.” -Ms. Clinton

She noted that the world already has the necessary tools and knowledge. Last year, PEPFAR helped prevent 114,000 babies from being born with HIV. PEPFAR and UNAIDS have brought together key partners to launch a global plan for eliminating new infections among children by 2015. She added that to prevent mother-to-child transmission, an effective combination prevention strategy has to include voluntary medical male circumcision.

“In the fight against AIDS, the ideal intervention is one that prevents people from being infected in the first place, and the two methods I’ve described – mother-to-child transmission, voluntary medical male circumcision – are the most cost-effective interventions we have, and we are scaling them up.” -Ms. Clinton

Ms. Clinton stressed that treating HIV-positive people before they become ill also has indirect economic benefits. It allows them to work, to support their families, contribute to their communities. It averts social costs, such as caring for orphans whose parents die of AIDS-related illnesses. She stated that a study published just last month weighed the costs and benefits and found that “the economic benefits of treatment will substantially offset, and likely exceed, program costs within 10 years of investment.”

“In other words, treating people will not only save lives, it will generate considerable economic returns as well.” -Ms. Clinton

Ms. Clinton made it clear that none of the interventions she have described can create an AIDS-free generation by itself. She highlighted that with combination with each other and with other powerful prevention methods, they do present an extraordinary opportunity.

“Right now, more people are becoming infected every year than are starting treatment. We can reverse this trend. Mathematical models show that scaling up combination prevention to realistic levels in high-prevalence countries would drive down the worldwide rate of new infections by at least 40 to 60 percent. That’s on top of the 25 percent drop we’ve already seen in the past decade.” -Ms. Clinton

She noted that as the world scales up the most effective prevention methods, the number of new infections will go down, and it will be possible to treat more people than are becoming infected each year.

“Let’s not stop now. Let’s keep focused on the future. And one of those futures that I hope we can be part of achieving is an AIDS-free generation. Thank you all very much.” -Ms. Clinton

Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn’t preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.