Today President Obama was part of a very special World AIDS Day event. It is a day for solemn observance, to remember all those who have been lost to this disease over 30 years, and those still living with HIV today.
Yet today’s event was a joyous occasion as well, as it celebrated all those who have done – and are doing – so much to respond to HIV/AIDS. Despite all the challenges, the history of this virus is also one of remarkable people coming together to make a difference.
The PEPFAR program – a program created by one president and handed off to another – has benefited from widespread support, and today’s event demonstrated American unity in this fight. The ONE Campaign and Product (RED), who have done so much to get people involved, were our hosts. President Obama was joined by President George W. Bush and President Clinton, each of whom played key roles in the AIDS fight while in office and continue their efforts today. Bono and Alicia Keys represented the artistic community that has been so important in the response, while Kay Warren represented the commitment of people of faith. Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Barbara Lee represented both the critical role of Congress in this effort and the power of bipartisanship of our work. The African leadership that has played such a vital role was exemplified by Dr. Patricia Nkansah-Asamoah of Ghana and Florence Ngobeni of South Africa. And last but by no means least, many of the advocates and practitioners from the AIDS and global health communities were in attendance, making clear the fact that every individual’s contribution makes a difference.
As President Obama said in his remarks and his World AIDS Day Proclamation, scientific advances have provided us with a unique opportunity for dramatic gains in the global response to HIV/AIDS. The concept of ‘combination prevention,’ through which we rely on multiple prevention interventions tailored to needs in the countries where we work, is at the center of this effort. The President outlined plans to expand our combination prevention work, including prevention of mother-to-child transmission, voluntary medical male circumcision, and condoms.
Among the most exciting new scientific discoveries is that antiretroviral treatment can reduce HIV transmission by as much as 96 percent. The U.S. now supports treatment for nearly 4 million people through PEPFAR – and the President electrified the audience by announcing an historic increase in PEPFAR’s treatment goal, to support for 6 million people by the end of 2013. The impact of this commitment will be extraordinary, for those on treatment and for the many more who will benefit from its preventive effect.
As President Obama made clear, the fight against global AIDS is a shared responsibility, not one the U.S. can meet alone. This week he asked the leaders of the donor and partner nations that are standing up in this fight, to join this effort and redouble their own efforts. As we move forward, we will work with a growing number of partners as the global community joins the U.S. in a heightened focus on this fight.
The American people can be very proud of the leadership our nation has shown through 30 years of AIDS. On World AIDS Day 2011, it is clear that that legacy of leadership continues.
Gayle Smith is the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Development and Democracy at the White House. Ambassador Goosby is the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator.