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WASHINGTON – Two weeks prior to opening of International AIDS Conference in Washington–held in the U.S. for the first time in over 20 years–White House gives no indication that Obama will address the conference, which includes over 25,000 leading AIDS scientists, researchers, medical providers, patients and advocates
–AIDS advocates say Obama should NOT address conference if he comes empty handed; demand he ends patient waiting lists for the U.S. AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP) and restore funding for the respected global AIDS treatment program, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)
Two weeks prior to the opening of the International AIDS Society’s XIX International AIDS Conference, in Washington, DC, Sunday, July 22, 2012, which is being held in the United States for the first time in more than 20 years, advocates from AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) and other groups are expressing surprise and dismay that the White House has given no indication whatsoever if President Obama will address the conference, which is being attended by over 25,000 leading AIDS scientists, researchers, medical providers, patients and advocates from around the world.
The conference, which takes place every two years, will feature presentations of important new scientific research and opportunities for dialogue on the major challenges facing the global response to AIDS.
By historic precedent, heads of state and leaders of host countries formally address conference attendees during the opening night ceremony of the conference, which takes place this year at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC. Only once has a head of state failed to appear: In 2006, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to stay away from that year’s XVIII AIDS conference that was held in Toronto drew widespread notice–and criticism.
“It is telling, unfortunately, that at this late a date, President Obama, as head of state for the U.S., has not committed to appear and is found nowhere among the speakers listed for any event at the upcoming International AIDS Conference in Washington, which takes place at the Convention Center, barely a mile from his home at the White House,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which provides free HIV/AIDS medical care to over 166,000 people in the U.S. and 25 other countries abroad.
“However, the president and his re-election team regularly and publicly announce his schedule of community and fundraising appearances in cities and towns in swing states and others around the country, so it seems unlikely that his decision not to appear at the AIDS conference could be due to security concerns–the Secret Service must clearly be able to adequately secure his safety at the Convention Center. Meanwhile, former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, former First Lady Laura Bush and Bill Gates have all committed to speaking at the event. It appears the President does not want to engage the AIDS communities–and with good reason.”
“Frankly, it might be better if President Obama does not address the AIDS Conference, if he plans on coming empty-handed,” said Tom Myers, Chief of Public Affairs and General Counsel for AHF.
“There are two things he can do immediately to show his commitment to HIV/AIDS, which has fallen far short of past administrations. First, for the United States, he can authorize the transfer of funds to immediately end waiting lists for the AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP), the network of programs that provide AIDS drugs to low-income Americans living with HIV/AIDS. Currently, nearly 2,000 Americans in need of access to lifesaving AIDS medications are languishing on ADAP waiting lists in nine states. Second, he should restore funding for the respected global AIDS treatment program, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), that his administration is seeking to cut.”
Earlier this year, the Obama administration, which–in a shocking repudiation of nearly thirty years of progress against the global AIDS pandemic–unveiled a global AIDS budget that took the unprecedented step of reducing AIDS funding by approximately $214 million in fiscal year 2013. Never before has a president sought to actually reduce America’s commitment to fighting the AIDS epidemic globally.
In Fiscal Year 2012, the federal funding for global AIDS is $6.63 billion. President Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposes spending $6.42 billion. In human terms, this difference represents 640,000 people with HIV/AIDS that could receive lifesaving AIDS treatment for one year.
The proposed budget came shortly after, and is directly at odds with, the President’s December 2011 announced goals of putting 2 million more people (50% more than the current number of approximately 4 million) on treatment by the end of 2013, and of creating an “AIDS free generation.”
“Actions speak louder than words,” added AHF’s Weinstein. “Defunding PEPFAR and ignoring ADAP waiting lists merely confirm what people with HIV/AIDS and their advocates have long suspected–that the President is not seriously committed to fighting AIDS. Without increasing PEPFAR funding to the levels already authorized by Congress, just holding steady against the epidemic–let alone achieving an ‘AIDS-free generation,’–as the president made great fanfare about, is simply empty rhetoric and is likely to fall on deaf ears at the AIDS conference.”
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization, currently provides medical care and/or services to more than 166,000 individuals in 26 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean, the Asia/Pacific Region and Eastern Europe. To learn more about AHF, please visit our website: www.aidshealth.org , find us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/aidshealth and follow us on Twitter: @aidshealthcare.