by Bob Roehr
The Obama administration rolled out some of its biggest guns for World AIDS Day, but as has been the case before, it did not include the President himself or the Vice President. A two-story red ribbon hung in the north portico of the White House, the same one used by George W. Bush in 2007.
“The President’s commitment to HIV/AIDS is demonstrated by the strong leadership of the team that he has assembled within his administration,” said Valerie Jarrett, one of three senior advisers to the President. Her own commitment to the issue was formed in part by watching her sister-in-law die of the disease.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called AIDS “the defining health crisis of our time. We have to address it through a series of broad and crosscutting global partnerships and a whole of government approach in many countries.”
She praised President George W. Bush for initiating PEPFAR, the U.S.’s international HIV effort, and the bipartisan support it has in Congress.
“We have to stand against any effort to marginalize, and criminalize, and penalize members of the LGBT community worldwide. It is an unacceptable step backward on behalf of human rights, but it is also a step that undermines the effectiveness of efforts to fight the disease worldwide,” Clinton said, without specifically mentioning Uganda and current efforts to enact a draconian law outlawing homosexuality.
She stepped outside of her diplomatic responsibilities to add, “We have to do more at home” in light of declining state and local resources, and an ever-expanding population of those living with HIV in the U.S.
Clinton noted that with repeal of the U.S. travel ban on persons infected with HIV, the International AIDS Conference will return to the U.S. in 2012, after an absence of more than two decades.
Secretary of Health Kathleen Sebelius touted the administration’s town hall meetings toward forming a national AIDS strategy. But there was no word on when it might be released, or additional funds that might be requested to meet the domestic need.
What will be released later this week is the five-year plan for PEPFAR, said its director Eric Goosby. The plan will focus on “sustainable responses; programs that are country owned and country driven,” though that does not include the homophobia envisioned by some in Uganda.
Elly Katabira, president-elect of the International AIDS Society, was delighted that lifting the HIV travel ban will result in their 2012 conference coming to Washington, D.C. He called for other nations to drop their remaining travel restrictions as discriminatory, but he passed on the opportunity to comment on the anti-homosexuality law that his native Uganda is considering implementing.
Jeffrey Crowley, director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, recounted the progress made in treating HIV in this country and the President’s signature on reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE Act. He said health reform would make it easier for people infected with HIV to obtain private health insurance; currently less than a third have such insurance.
There was no word on when release of the national AIDS strategy might be anticipated. Crowley initially had talked about having the document ready by December; that will not happen. It likely will not be released until after the President’s budget is sent to Congress next year.