Obama on AIDS: "We can beat this disease"

President Obama makes remarks on World AIDS Day at George Washington University on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011 in Washington. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

obama, hiv, aids
President Obama makes remarks on World AIDS Day at George Washington University on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011 in Washington.
AP Photo

(CBS/AP) "We can beat this disease." That's what President Obama declared on Thursday during a World AIDS Day event in Washington. Obama used the occasion to announce a renewed American commitment to fight a disease that so far has claimed 30 million lives.

PICTURES - HIV/AIDS in global spotlight for World AIDS Day

Obama pledged U.S. support to help 6 million people get access to antiretroviral drugs in nations hardest hit by the virus by the end of 2013. He also announced plans to raise spending on HIV treatment in the U.S. 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 U.S. will aim to get the drugs to 1.5 million HIV-positive pregnant women to keep them from passing the virus to their children; 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 over the next two years.

Circumcisions reduce the risk of female-to-male HIV transmission by more than 60 percent, research has shown.

The new goals build on the work of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which focuses on prevention, treatment and support programs in 15 nations hit hardest by the AIDS pandemic, including 12 in Africa. Bush launched the $15 billion plan in 2003. In 2008, Congress tripled the budget to $48 billion over five years.

Obama praised Bush 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," Obama said. "And we are proud that we have the opportunity to carry that work forward."

The president urged other wealthy nations to fulfill their financial pledges to a global fund to fight HIV/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."

Worldwide, HIV has infected an estimated 60 million people since the deadly pandemic began 30 years ago. More than 33 million people currently live 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.

Obama ordered his staff to reevaluate both their international and domestic approaches to HIV/AIDS this summer after being briefed on the scientific advancements.

The CDC has more on HIV/AIDS.

  • David W Freeman

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