A triumvirate of leading anti-HIV campaigners agreed Monday that the AIDS epidemic can be wiped out in this generation if there is an adequate investment of funds and other resources.
Speaking at the start of the first full day of the AIDS 2012 International Conference in Washington, D.C., were Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and the Black AIDS Institute's President and CEO Phill Wilson. Wilson's speech marked the first time an African American has given an opening plenary address in the 19 high-profile international conferences.
Speaking from a scientific perspective, Fauci also believes an AIDS-free generation is, indeed, within reach.
"There is no excuse scientifically to say we cannot do it," said. Fauci, pointing to a series of scientific findings that have given researchers hope they can dramatically curb new infections. "What we need now is the political and organizational will to implement what science has given us," he said. Fauci's optimism was bolstered by the U.S. government's commitment to funding needed research. The National Institutes of Health, for example, has spent $50 billion on AIDS since 1982.
Wilson, an openly gay, Black man, is part of the fastest-growing segment of the epidemic in the United States. He said the U.S. must do a better job at moving HIV-infected people into treatment so they don't spread the disease.
"In the richest nation on the planet, barely a quarter of the people with HIV are in fully-effective treatment," Wilson said. "More than 70 percent are either not in treatment at all or on sub-optimal treatment. That's bad for them and it's bad for everyone else because when they are not on treatment, they are much, much more likely to spread the virus."
The longtime activist suggested five pillars of action to help end AIDS.
First he called for the full implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which will provide health coverage to more than 30 million people who are currently uninsured.
Second, Wilson called for everyone living with HIV to come out of the closet. He said living proudly and openly with HIV not only minimizes HIV stigma, it helps build support for essential services.
Third, he underscored the need to put as much emphasis on building demand for treatment as ensuring access. He listed such programs as Medicaid and the Ryan White CARE Act as models that have helped build a sizable system of care for people living with HIV, even though only about one in four are now receiving the care they need.
Fourth, Wilson emphasized the need to integrate both biomedical and the behavioral therapies in our prevention and treatment efforts.
And fifth, he called on AIDS organizations to re-tool themselves for a rapidly evolving AIDS landscape, saying many community-based organizations have focused their expertise on behavioral interventions, but few have meaningful scientific expertise, and fewer still actually deliver health care services.
U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton, who followed Wilson, announced that the conference's host country is donating $80 million in new funding to help poor countries eliminate HIV-infected births. She said treating HIV-infected women so that they protect themselves, their babies and their partners is a key part of the President Barack Obama's administration's commitment to ensuring an AIDS-free generation.
"I am here to make it absolutely clear: The United States is committed and will remain committed to achieving an AIDS-free generation," Clinton told the audience. "We will not back off, we will not back down, we will fight for the resources to achieve this historic milestone."