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The Beginning of the End of AIDS

November 30, 2011

Los Angeles, Calif. -- This week, people all over the world are coming together to remember our love ones lost to this terrible disease and strategize on how to move forward. On this 23rd annual World AIDS day, the Black AIDS Institute is calling on colleagues, leaders and communities around the globe to finally put an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Thirty years is enough.

Who would have thought a strange new disease first identified among five gay men at UCLA Medical Center in 1981 would become the health issue of our time, killing more than 25 million people so far and threatening to destabilize countries around the globe?

Last year-nearly three decades into the epidemic-President Obama released the first National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States. Today, we have a national strategy because, like everything else in the HIV/AIDS epidemic, everyday people worked to get our leaders to commit to it and worked with those leaders to make it a reality.

On Thursday, President Obama is giving a big AIDS speech. I hope he recites the vision of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy:

"The United States will become a place where new HIV infections are rare and when they do occur, every person, regardless of age, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or socio-economic circumstance, will have unfettered access to high quality, life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination."

That's an amazing promise.

In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and challenged America to make good on a promissory note signed by Abraham Lincoln 100 years earlier. We cannot wait 100 years to make good on the vision of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. It's time to end the AIDS epidemic in America. Thirty years is enough.

We are at a deciding moment. We have the tools to end the AIDS epidemic in America. We can do more than imagine the end of the epidemic; we can make it happen. We have new diagnostic tools, new surveillance capabilities, new prevention strategies, new treatment options, and a new understanding of how to interrupt acquisition and transmission. The question is no longer can we end AIDS? The question is: Do we have the moral will and the political leadership to do it. Will we use these newly acquired and in some cases primitive tools efficiently, compassionately and effectively?

I don't know what the President is going to say on Thursday. But I do know what I would like for him to say. I know what 1.2 million Americans living with HIV/AIDS need him to say: We need him to say that our country does have the moral will end the AIDS epidemic. And we need our President to demonstrate the political leadership to get the job done.

We have reached a deciding moment. HIV is 100 percent preventable, including among some of our most at-risk populations: women, gay and bisexual men and young adults. HIV is also 100 percent diagnosable and in many cases treatable. Our prevention toolbox is now exploding with options. We now have the all of the tools needed to end the AIDS epidemic!

As President Obama has stated before, "The question is not whether we know what to do, but whether we will do it."




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