The ONE Campaign and (Red) hosted a high-level panel discussion, “The Beginning of the End of AIDS,” on Thursday that included AIDS patients, doctors, activists, CEOs, members of Congress, rock stars, even Presidents.
“This is a global fight, and it’s one that America must continue to lead,” President Obama said at the Washington, D.C., forum.
He announced increased funding to combat HIV/AIDS to record levels, and is committing an additional $50 million for the Ryan White Care Act that supports care provided by HIV medical clinics across the country, and an additional $35 million dollars for state AIDS assistance programs.
President George W. Bush created the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis in 2002, and established the President’s Emergency for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in 2003, and these initiatives have expanded under President Obama, saving millions of lives in the developing world.
Since AIDS was identified 30 years ago, the United States has led the world in achieving scientific advancements toward AIDS treatment, and the number of people that live today as result of PEPFAR is staggering.
“It’s not that there are no drugs. It’s just that there are no drugs for poor people in that geography. And that affected me way beyond charity or a sense of compassion. For me I felt it was a justice issue” said Bono, lead singer of U2 and co-founder of ONE and (Red).
Bono described the devastation in Africa that ignited his activism. “It was unbelievable. I will never forget it. Three and four people using beds, on top of the beds, under the bed, things you don’t want to see in your life,” he said.
“It’s a very strange feeling to be in a clinic and to see lines and lines of people, men, women and children queuing up, diagnosed as HIV-positive, and the medical staff knowing there is no treatment, so essentially being queued up for a death sentence,” Bono said.
“We are not going to see it if the rest of the world follows the leadership of the United States of America.”
“I really want to say I am not an American, so you have to listen to it from me,” said Bono. “Thank you, to the United States of America, thank you so much on behalf of all those people you won’t meet.”
The president of the Republic of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, launched a nationwide HIV/AIDS testing and prevention program program in 2007. He tested for HIV, and nearly 4 million Tanzanians followed suit after he did so. Those infected can now get requisite care and treatment
“For us in Tanzania, whenever we talk about the success that has been made with HIV/AIDS, we cannot fail to recognize and acknowledge the invaluable support we have received and continue to receive from the people and the government of the United States of America,” said Kikwete.
Infection rates in Tanzania have declined from 18% in the 1980s to 5.7% today, said Kikwete.
An HIV-positive person on treatment is now 96% less likely to pass the virus on to another.
“The global infections might be going down elsewhere, but they’re not going down here in America. The infection rate here has been holding steady for nearly a decade,” said President Obama.
Obama called on state governments, pharmaceutical companies and private foundations to help Americans get access to all the lifesaving treatments, and said he intends to bring down the cost of vaccines and over the next five years.
Child HIV infections are down more than 40% from a decade ago, and 6.6 million people around the world are on treatment as of 2010, but there are still 390 thousand infections passed from mother to child. Right now, 1.2 million Americans live with HIV.
The Obama administration also ended the ban that prohibited people with HIV from entering America.
“Because of that step, for the first time in two decades we will host the International AIDS Conference” Obama said.
“When new infections among young black gay men increase by nearly 50% in three years, we need to do more to show them that their lives matter. When Latinos are dying sooner than other groups, when black women feel forgotten even though they account for most of the cases among women, then we’ve got to do more,” he said.
Members of the Obama administration have fanned out across the country to meet people living with HIV, researchers, faith leaders, medical providers and private-sector partners to sculpt a new plan to combat this disease.
Singer Alicia Keys was introduced to the severity of the AIDS pandemic after her first trip to Africa when she was 19, prompting her to co-founded Keep a Child Alive (KCA).
She witnessed thousands of children who had lost their parents from AIDS, and were raising their younger brothers and sisters.
KCA is setting a goal of providing anti-retroviral drugs to more than a half-million HIV-positive women over the next two years, so that they have the chance to give birth to HIV-free babies.
“American citizens and government must understand there is no greater priority than living out the admonition “to whom much is given, much is required,” said President Bush.
As of September, the United States now supports anti-retroviral treatment for nearly 4 million people worldwide.
The U.S spends between 10% and 20% of the budget on foreign assistance, and the American people think we should spend 3% to 5%. Yet we only spend 1% on fighting the global AIDS pandemic, said President Bill Clinton.
“One thing that’s screaming for a bipartisan resolution is to increase the percentage of American aid dollars actually going to the people for the purpose for which it was intended,” he said. “I think at this time of tough budgeting, one of the things that we ought to take a lead in spending.”
“It’s a lot less expensive to make more friends and fewer enemies than to go to war. This is an important part of our national security strategy,” said Clinton.
“The economy will be even tougher if people around the world are dying and can’t enter the workforce, and can’t be our business partners on economic trade and development. The economy is tough now, and it will get even worse,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R.-Fla.).
“The wealthy nations are going through budgetary struggles, and when you go through budgetary struggles it seems to me the best thing to do is to set priorities and to focus on that which is effective,” said Bush. “There is nothing more effective than PEPFAR.”
The Bush Center as well as the State Department and the Coleman Foundation’s private partners are expanding the outreach of PEPFAR with a breast and cervical cancer initiative called Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon.
“Women with HIV are more likely to get cervical cancer, and it is not acceptable to save a woman from AIDS and watch her die from cancer,” Bush said.
Bono said that by 2050 the African population will nearly double the population of China. “Africa is a rich incredible place, and if you have any doubts about this, ask really good long-term thinkers, like China, because they’re all going to Africa because they see the future. And for American jobs, Europeans jobs and trade and everything else, this is a smart thing to do.”
“We have this disease by the scruff of the neck,” Bono said, and if we take our grip off of the scruff of the neck, we are going to lose everything that we’ve fought for the last 20 years.”
“It’s vitally important that all the leaders of the world come together now and recognize by giving more money to AIDS, we can actually eradicate this disease” said singer Elton John
“If we have power to do that must we, shouldn’t we? If we have the power to,” said Keys, “then we must.”