“Today, we come together, as a global community, across continents, faiths and cultures, to renew our commitment to ending the AIDS pandemic, once and for all,” President Obama said at George Washington University on Thursday, December 1, in a speech titled “Beginning of the End of AIDS.” amfAR joins the President and AIDS advocates around the globe this December 1 in commemorating World AIDS Day 2011.
Begun by UNAIDS in 1988, this annual event is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against this devastating pandemic. Local events around the world will raise awareness, honor those we have lost to AIDS, and assess the progress made in our battle against this disease.
And as President Obama acknowledged in his speech, significant progress has been made. “Back in those early years, few could have imagined this day…Few could have imagined that we’d be talking about the real possibility of an AIDS-free generation,” he said, reasserting a goal first outlined by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a speech at the National Institutes of Health on November 8.
This year’s World AIDS Day theme, “Getting to Zero: Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination, and Zero AIDS Related Deaths,” marks the launch of the UN’s “Getting to Zero” campaign, which is intended to galvanize efforts to achieve the AIDS-related Millennium Development Goals by the 2015 deadline.
More than 34 million people are living with HIV worldwide, including 1.2 million Americans. And in a new Vital Signs report released on November 29, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that nearly three out of four of those Americans do not have their infection under control, either because they do not know they are infected or they are not receiving treatment and care.
Men who have sex with men (MSM)─particularly young black MSM─are the population most affected by HIV in the U.S. and least likely to know they are infected. “When new infections among young, black, gay men increase by nearly 50 percent in three years, we need to do more to show them that their lives matter,” President Obama said on Thursday.
The news is not all bad, however. According to the 2011 UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report, new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths have fallen to their lowest levels since the peak of the epidemic. The last two years have seen remarkable scientific advances that offer promising new tools for HIV prevention, from microbicides and male circumcision to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and early treatment as prevention.
In an effort to align his National HIV/AIDS Strategy with these scientific advances, President Obama announced, “Today we’re setting a new target of helping six million people get on treatment by the end of 2013. That’s two million more people than our original goal.” He also announced new commitments of an additional $15 million for the Ryan White program and an additional $35 million for state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs.
This World AIDS Day, amfAR reaffirms its commitment to achieving the ultimate HIV research goal: a cure. On November 29, the Foundation commemorated World AIDS Day with a symposium titled “Making AIDS History: Closing In on a Cure” that featured a conversation with Timothy Brown, the “Berlin Patient,” moderated by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, as well as presentations from scientists leading the way in cure research.
At this time of unprecedented scientific opportunity in the quest to end AIDS, President Obama urged the country and the world not to lose momentum, “We can beat this disease. We can win this fight. We just have to keep at it, today, tomorrow, and every day until we get to zero.”