20th Anniversary of World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day RibbonThis year marks 20 years since the first World AIDS Day was commemorated to raise awareness and move the nations of the world to act.

Although it took far too long, the world is finally rising to the challenge. Since 2002, international HIV/AIDS assistance has increased nearly five-fold. As a result, the number of people in developing countries receiving antiretroviral medications has increased ten times to more than 3 million. Increased access to treatment is already saving lives, with the number of AIDS deaths beginning to decline in 2005 after decades of increases.

Despite this progress, the scope of the challenges ahead is enormous. More than 33 million people are still living with HIV and AIDS, and more than 7,000 new infections occur every day. Among African American women, the disease has become so rampant that it is this group’s leading cause of death between the ages of 25 and 34.

This year's theme for World AIDS Day, 'Lead — Empower — Deliver,' emphasizes the need for global leadership to address these challenges. During the 110th Congress, we have successfully increased funding for global AIDS initiatives by $1.8 billion, bringing total funding to $5 billion, with an additional $500 million increase pending for fiscal year 2009.

This year, Congress reauthorized the President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), moving relief from the emergency phase to the sustainability phase in fighting AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria by significantly increasing resources for treatment, prevention, and stronger health care delivery systems. This groundbreaking legislation also eliminated the requirement that one-third of the funding be used for abstinence programs, eliminated the travel ban for visitors who are HIV positive, and improved services for women and girls.

We need to match this unprecedented global commitment with a stronger commitment here at home to reducing new HIV infections and increasing access to treatment. Although the 110th Congress enacted large increases for Ryan White care programs in fiscal years 2007 and 2008, with another $100 million increase still pending for fiscal year 2009, funding for the domestic epidemic overall has been woefully inadequate since 2001. More than 1.1 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS in the United States, with only 55 percent of those in need of antiretroviral treatments receiving these lifesaving medications.

As President-Elect Obama called for during his campaign, a new National AIDS Strategy is needed to use resources more effectively, and to track and improve outcomes focused on fewer new infections, increased access to care, and reduced racial and ethnic disparities. Funding is pending in the fiscal year 2009 Appropriations bill to initiate this effort. Developing this strategy and implementing its vision must be a major priority over the next few years.

As we begin a new era of leadership in the United States, we renew our commitment to working together with all nations to answer today's call for renewed leadership in the effort to combat, and eventually end, HIV/AIDS.

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