New strategy for fighting HIV infections and AIDS

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WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama is announcing a new national strategy for combatting HIV and AIDS on Tuesday, aimed at stopping new infections and increasing access to care for people living with the virus.

The strategy calls for reducing the rate of new HIV infections by 25 percent over the next five years, and for getting treatment to 85 percent of patients within three months of their diagnosis. Obama said the strategy will help the U.S. to become a nation where infections are rare and all Americans can receive high-quality care that is free from stigma or discrimination.

“This is a moment of opportunity for the nation,” Obama says in a report to be released Tuesday. “Now is the time to build on and refocus our existing efforts to deliver better results for the American people.”

Administration officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and domestic policy chair Melody Barnes, will unveil the strategy at the White House on Tuesday. Obama was to discuss the strategy at a reception honoring the work of the HIV and AIDS community later in the day.

Widely considered to be the nation’s first comprehensive national strategy on HIV and AIDS, the report is the result of more than a year of discussions between the administration, state and local officials, advocacy groups and the private sector. While the strategy does call for improved coordination among federal agencies, it doesn’t identify any new government funding to implement the strategy.

Approximately 56,000 people in the U.S. become infected with HIV each year, and more than 1.1. million Americans are living with HIV, according to the White House.

The new policy will concentrate HIV prevention efforts at the highest-risk populations _ which include gay and bisexual men, as well as black Americans _ far more than is done today, said Chris Collins of amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, which was among the groups that met with administration officials as the new policy firmed up over the last few months.

That means finding creative ways to spread successful local programs that find people who are HIV-negative and help them stay that way, as well as providing education and treatment for people who are living with HIV that reduces their chances of spreading the virus, Collins said.

The strategy also aims to copy some of the steps credited with spurring the success of a Bush-era policy to fight AIDS in hard-hit developing countries. That includes setting specific targets and mandating coordination among different government agencies to guard against missed steps and wasted, duplicated efforts.

“We’ve never had that kind of coordinated, accountable effort to address AIDS in America, and that’s what we need,” said Collins.

There is a new HIV infection every 9 1/2 minutes in the U.S. But about 1 of every 5 people living with HIV doesn’t know it.

Access to care plays a role in prevention, too, because the more virus in someone’s bloodstream, the easier it is for that person to spread infection through such things as unprotected sex. Good HIV treatment reduces that so-called viral load.

In one step toward reducing access-to-care disparities, the Obama administration on Friday reallocated $25 million to states that have waiting lists for their AIDS Drug Assistance program, which provides treatment help for the uninsured and underinsured. The National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors reported that more than 2,200 people in 12 states were on waiting lists for ADAP help as of last week.

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AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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