- The Washington Times - Monday, July 23, 2012

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said AIDS may be incurable but “no longer has to be a death sentence” as she pushed for a generation that is “free of AIDS” at a major international conference on the disease that formally opened in Washington on Monday.

Mrs. Clinton said an immediate goal for 2015 is to bring to “zero” the rate of mother-child HIV transmission worldwide, work to lower infection risks and push for universal access to drugs that arrest the HIV virus and prevent AIDS transmission.

An effective vaccine and cure for AIDS may still be in the future, said Mrs. Clinton, “but the disease that HIV causes need not be with us.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said researchers are pressing to take medical therapies to “the next steps,” but warned that biological advances must be paired with behavioral changes, especially in high-risk populations.

The message of “adherence” to prevention and treatment “must be hammered home,” Dr. Fauci said.

Mrs. Clinton announced that the U.S. government would make available $80 million to ensure that HIV-positive women around the world get treatment; $40 million to support South Africa’s efforts to provide its  500,000 males with voluntary, medical circumcisions; and $20 million to support “country-led plans” to expand services for “key populations.”

“If we want to save more lives, we need to go where the virus is, and get there as quickly as possible,” she said, adding that Dr. Eric Goosby, the global AIDS coordinator at the State Department, is expected to release a blueprint for an “AIDS-free generation” on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1.

Mrs. Clinton also called for giving women more power in the AIDS battle, including access to birth control and abortion so every woman can “decide when and whether to have children. This is true whether they are HIV-positive or not.”

Although a chorus of boos erupted when Mrs. Clinton entered the conference room, she parried them with a lighthearted, “Now what would an AIDS conference be without a little protesting?” She later drew laughter when, after recounting a list of positive developments, she said, “If you’re not getting excited about this, please raise your hand and I will send somebody to check your pulse.”

In earlier presentations at the 19th International AIDS Conference, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that $80 million would be used for domestic HIV/AIDS treatment. This “will expand care for 14,000 new patients” and allow states to “fully clear their [AIDS Drug Assistance Program] waiting lists,” she said.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence in black men who have sex with men (MSM) must be recognized, said Phill Wilson, president and chief executive of the Black AIDS Institute.

Mr. Wilson cited data showing that by age 25, one in four black MSM in the United States has acquired HIV, and that this infection rate escalates with age until, by age 40, nearly 60 percent of black MSM are infected.

Mr. Obama’s new national health care law must be fully implemented, since this addresses issues concerning access and pre-existing conditions, said Mr. Wilson. Also, all people who are HIV-positive “must come out” and openly demand services, as “treatment on demand” is part of the solution, he said.

Separately, Sir Elton John testified to the need for love, compassion, respect and understanding for persons with HIV and AIDS, especially those who live in the margins of society or what could be considered “immoral” lives.

Even if there’s a vaccine and a cure for HIV/AIDS someday, those things won’t be enough because they won’t end stigma, homophobia, rapes of women, and criminalization of HIV infection, said the superstar, who said he too should have died of AIDS, as did Queen singer Freddie Mercury and actor Rock Hudson when the disease’s ravages first became evident.

Instead, he is now living a sober, clean and “wonderful life,” thanks to the kindness and understanding he received years ago when he hit “rock bottom.”

“Science can stop the disease, but science alone can’t end the plague,” Mr. John concluded. “We have to replace the shame with love, we have to replace the stigma with compassion. No one should be left behind. That is how we will end the plague.”

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