I was very pleased to join Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, the President’s Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, ONAP Director Jeffrey Crowley, and Dr. Elly Katabira, President-elect of the International AIDS Society at the White House today for an event on the eve of World AIDS Day 2009. World AIDS Day is an occasion to reflect on how far we have come in the fight against this epidemic, but also to remind ourselves of the important work we have yet to do in preventing and treating HIV.
This year marks my first World AIDS Day as the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, although I have been working on HIV/AIDS issues for more than 25 years. In addition to my work treating persons living with HIV and AIDS, I have held various roles in and outside of government working to respond to HIV/AIDS in the U.S. and around the world. I was deeply humbled when the President appointed me to serve as the Global AIDS Coordinator. We are just getting started, but President Obama has demonstrated solid leadership on domestic and global HIV/AIDS issues, and it is an exciting time to be a part of his team.
At today’s event, Secretary Clinton announced that the 2012 International AIDS Conference will be held in Washington, DC. This momentous event is made possible by the Administration’s recent lifting of the entry ban for HIV-positive travelers to the United States. The full removal of the ban takes effect on January 4, 2010. This entry ban was originally placed into effect in 1987 when there was little information on how HIV is spread, and was then codified by Congress. Even after scientists had long proved that HIV/AIDS was not spread through casual contact with a person living with HIV, the entry ban remained in place. Only a handful of countries worldwide prohibit HIV-positive travelers from crossing their borders, and the United States has been the only Western country to uphold this discriminatory policy. Last year, Congress finally repealed the law mandating the travel ban, and the Obama Administration was able to remove the remaining regulatory barriers.
Hosting the International AIDS Conference in the United States is an important opportunity for the United States. This event draws scientists, policy makers, program officials, HIV-positive individuals and others from all over the world. As the largest conference of its type, the International AIDS Conference attracts more than 25,000 participants and over 3,000 members of the media. Welcoming conference attendees to our Nation’s capital will allow America to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to ending the HIV pandemic both in the United States and around the world. Given that the conference is fundamentally a research conference, holding this event in such close proximity to the National Institutes of Health and other U.S. Government research facilities will also, hopefully, expand the level of scientific discourse between our scientists and researchers from around the world.
Hosting the conference in the United States will also enable us to showcase our efforts to respond to our domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic. By 2012, the U.S. will have a National HIV/AIDS Strategy in place for the first time in our nation’s history. We expect to have made new strides by then to better coordinate HIV prevention and care services across the U.S. Government, as well as to reduce HIV/AIDS disparities. In addition, the conference will allow us to spotlight our ongoing and continued commitment to the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the President’s Global Health Initiative.
World AIDS Day is an important day to pause and reflect. It is also an important day to look forward with renewed optimism and vigor. Today’s announcement by Secretary Clinton is a sign of renewed commitment that gives us all hope as we move forward in the fight against HIV/AIDS and confront the many challenges ahead.
Eric P. Goosby, MD is the United States Ambassador at Large and Global AIDS Coordinator