“Creating an AIDS-free generation has never been a policy priority for the United States government—until today,” Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton proclaimed in an address to the National Institutes of Health on Tuesday, as she called for a renewed U.S. focus on fighting the global AIDS epidemic. We, as AIDS activists, applaud Secretary Clinton for expressing this message at such a crucial juncture.
Just a year ago, members of the Harvard Global Health & AIDS Coalition, a chapter of the Student Global AIDS Campaign, together with people living with HIV/AIDS and community members[RR1] , publicly called upon President Obama to make the fight against global AIDS a U.S. priority. As a presidential candidate, Obama promised to increase funding by $50 billion over five years for AIDS treatment and prevention programs overseas. As modest increases during his first years in office made it evident that he was not living up to this promise, we joined together with other national AIDS activists to put pressure on the President at midterm election rallies he attended in Philadelphia, Boston, Bridgeport, and New York.
We understand the other immense pressures President Obama is under in light of the billions of dollars that must be cut in order to reduce the deficit. However, cutting these dollars from foreign aid, which makes up a mere fraction of one percent of the U.S. budget is neither effective, nor morally conscionable. As AIDS activists, we have been frustrated by President Obama’s stagnancy and lack of leadership on the issue. Currently, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the main mechanism through which the U.S. funds treatment for people overseas, aims only to reach four million on treatment by 2013. This goal will likely be reached by the end of this year, with an unambitious plan in place to expand treatment targets. As the discovery of HIV/AIDS enters its thirtieth year, the end of the virus that has eluded humanity for the past three decades is finally in sight.
Several new scientific studies show that now, more than ever, we have the tools to eradicate the disease. One groundbreaking study brings to light the fact that treatment is prevention: People who are on treatment are 96 percent less likely to transmit the disease. A new framework shows that if we invest now in the most effective prevention and treatment strategies, such as condom distribution, male circumcision, and a focus on mother-to-child transmission, in just four years, the costs of these programs will start to decrease. These exciting new discoveries prompted the UN, in a meeting last June, to commit to putting 15 million people on treatment by 2015. Now, AIDS activists are calling on the current administration to increase their treatment target to eight million people on treatment by 2015.
In her address, Secretary Clinton highlighted the pivotal role the United States has historically held in efforts of research, development of anti-retroviral medication, and funding for treatment and prevention programs such as PEPFAR. Moreover, she acknowledged the urgency of maintaining U.S. leadership on this issue, contending that “Our efforts have helped set the stage for the historic opportunity the world has today: to change the course of this pandemic and usher in an AIDS-free generation.”
Included in Clinton’s proposed interventions were many of those effective strategies, such as prevention of mother-to-child transmission and voluntary medical male circumcision, along with a strong emphasis on treatment with anti-retroviral therapy. The integration of these initiatives into a comprehensive plan will allow us to treat those suffering while also mitigating transmission—but its adoption will rely on the continued support and leadership of the United States. Our unique ability to take advantage of new scientific advances equips us with the capability to witness an end to AIDS. The realization of this goal depends on resurgence where faltered efforts and broken promises have compromised progress, beginning with the establishment of concrete and expanded treatment targets with timelines to follow in moving forward. In this critical moment of opportunity, we urge President Obama to capitalize on this momentum and lead concerted action.
Darshali A. Vyas ’14 is a Social Studies concentrator in Quincy House. Lily H. Ostrer ’14 is a Social Studies concentrator in Kirkland House. Mythili Prabhu ’13 is a Government concentrator in Mather House.