President Barack Obama pledged to increase aide for AIDS treatment in the US and around the world at a star-studded World AIDS Day speech today in Washington. The president also set an ambitious goal to help triple of the number of doses of life-saving drugs that are sent to the nations hardest hit by the disease.
Cities across the globe marked the day with vivid displays of awareness for AIDS that has infected 60 million people.
'We can beat this disease,' Obama declared during a World AIDS Day event in Washington. Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton also participated via satellite.
President Obama pledged to help give 6 million people antiretroviral drugs in the countries hardest hit by the disease by 2013, increasing the original US goal by 2 million. And he announced plans to boost spending on HIV treatment in the US by $50 million.
'The rate of new infections may be going down elsewhere, but it's not going down here in America,' he said.
'There are communities in this country being devastated still by this disease. 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.'
As part of Obama's new overseas initiatives, the US will also aim to get antiretroviral drugs to 1.5 million HIV-positive pregnant women to prevent them from passing the virus to their children.
He also plans to distribute more than 1 billion condoms in the developing world in the next two years and fund 4.7 million voluntary medical male circumcisions in eastern and southern Africa. Research shows circumcisions reduce the risk of female-to-male HIV transmission by more than 60 percent.
The new global goals build on the work of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which focuses on prevention, treatment and support programs in 15 countries hit hardest by the AIDS pandemic, 12 of them in Africa.
President Bush launched the $15 billion plan in 2003, and in 2008, Congress tripled the budget to $48 billion over five years.
President Obama praised his predecessor for his leadership on AIDS relief, saying the program will be one of the former president's greatest legacies.
'That program — more ambitious than even leading advocates thought was possible at the time — has saved thousands and thousands and thousands of lives, spurred international action, and laid the foundation for a comprehensive global plan that will impact the lives of millions,' President Obama said.
'And we are proud that we have the opportunity to carry that work forward.'
Despite Obama's more ambitious goals, the relief program's budget is not expected to increase. Instead officials said the expanded targets would be funded through savings achieved by making the program more efficient and cutting the costs of treatment.
The president urged other wealthy nations to fulfill their financial pledges to a global fund to fight HIV and AIDS, and jabbed those who have not contributed money.
'Countries that haven't made a pledge need to do so,' he said.
'That includes China and other major economies that are now able to step up as major donors.'
The HIV virus has infected an estimated 60 million people worldwide since the deadly pandemic began 30 years ago. More than 33 million people are currently living with the virus.
While the failure to find an effective HIV vaccine continues to frustrate the medical community, experts say scientific research in recent years has led to substantial progress in preventing and treating the virus.
President Obama ordered his staff to reevaluate both their international and domestic approaches to HIV and AIDS this summer after being briefed on the scientific advancements.
Members of both parties praised the new initiatives and commended Democratic and Republican leaders for coming together.
'Here's what we can do when we work together. We've got leaders of both political parties standing behind something that works,' said Gayle Smith, President Obama's senior director for development and democracy at the National Security Council.
Tony Fratto, a former Bush spokesman, urged both parties to avoid making the fight against AIDS a political issue.
'The only way to undermine this historic undertaking is if it becomes a partisan issue,' he said.
'The reasons a Barack Obama and a George W. Bush can support America's leading role in addressing this disease may be very different, but what's important is they've sought the same goal.'
Photo: President Barack Obama greets Bono, Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent and Alicia Keys at his World AIDS Day speech in Washington
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Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07