Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Obama Introduces National HIV/AIDS Strategy

Today Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, announced a new national strategy to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Early in his administration President Obama organized a committee to consult doctors and persons living with HIV/AIDS, researchers and health workers, activists, community leaders and academics to develop a plan with three goals:

1) reduce the number of people who become infected with HIV; 2) increase access to care and improving health outcomes for people living with HIV; and, 3) reduce HIV-related health disparities.

The vision is that “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.” Said Secretary Sebelius.

The Strategy calls for a 25% reduction of HIV prevention over the next five years. In order to achieve this objective the administration acknowledges it must target the populations at higher risk. The disparity between HIV infection and treatment is drastic in the United States as Sebelius explains:

“we’ve been very successful at keeping HIV/AIDS incidence low for some populations. If you’re a white, heterosexual woman like me, your chances of being infected by HIV/AIDS are very low – just 1 in 50,000. But if you’re a black female who’s an injection drug user, your chances of being infected are more than 1,000 times higher – closer to 1 in 35. If you’re a gay Hispanic man, your chances are 350 times higher. In some U.S. cities, it’s estimated that almost half of all gay black men are HIV-positive.Read her full speech.

The Strategy is praised for its ambition and thoughtfully outlining a road map with milestones and targets.

However, Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, was critical of the Strategy: "This strategy is a day late and a dollar short: 15 months in the making, and the White House learned what people in the field have known for years. There is no funding, no "how to," no real leadership." Said Weinstein, "Access to care for HIV is declining in this country. You can't say this is a new strategy, if you don't intend to spend any money on it."

Charles King, president and chief executive officer of Housing Works which tries to ameliorate the problem of AIDS and homelessness, was also disappointed. A snippet from a Housing Works press release:

“The president’s plan is so flawed that it might actually represent a step backwards in combating HIV and AIDS in the United States,” said Housing Works President and CEO Charles King. “Since his days on the campaign trail, President Obama has repeatedly said that he wants to lead the fight against AIDS. Unless he commits significant new resources intended to make major inroads against the spread of HIV, he will be regarded as a leader who did next to nothing about the most devastating epidemic of our time.”

In a press conference, Obama reviews the three goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy:

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