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Secretary Clinton to AIDS 2012: “We Will Not Back Off, We Will Not Back Down”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the International AIDS Conference and gives an update on PEPFAR progress

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that Secretary Clinton electrified the AIDS 2012 audience with her keynote address at this week’s conference. Her speech was a perfect combination of substance and inspiration, and the enthusiastic reception made it clear that she had hit all the right notes.

Last November, of course, she articulated the goal, made possible by recent scientific advances, of an AIDS-free generation. This laid the groundwork for President Obama’s groundbreaking announcement on World AIDS Day of ambitious new combination prevention goals for PEPFAR, including a 50% increase in our treatment goal, to 6 million by the end of fiscal year 2013.

In her remarks this week, the Secretary updated the world on PEPFAR’s progress since then. We’ve dramatically increased the pace of treatment enrollment, reaching nearly 4.5 million with treatment through the first half of this fiscal year – putting us on track to meet the 6 million goal on time. One of the other goals was to reach 1.5 million HIV-positive pregnant women with services to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV – and we’re on target to achieve that as well, reaching 370,000 women in the first half of FY 2012. We’ve also performed 400,000 voluntary medical male circumcisions in that same time frame – with an accelerating pace as countries come to understand what a cost-effective, smart investment it is. Looking to the future, Secretary Clinton announced that she has asked me to produce, by World AIDS Day this year, a blueprint for the next steps in America’s contribution to an AIDS-free generation.

So there was plenty of substance. But there was also much to inspire. In words that resonated powerfully with the many attendees from developing countries, the Secretary spoke about the U.S. commitment to support country leadership in the response.  She was forceful about ensuring that our programs meet the needs of those who face the highest risks, including men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, and sex workers.  The audience warmly welcomed her announcement of several new PEPFAR investments in work with these groups. And Secretary Clinton did not shy away from challenging the world by asserting that AIDS is a global, shared responsibility – one that requires all nations, not only the U.S., to step up, with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria an essential vehicle to do so.

Finally, the Secretary movingly described visiting the AIDS Quilt on the National Mall in 1996 with President Clinton. She pointed the way forward to the day “when we can stop adding names.” I believe that after today, no one doubts America’s commitment to that day when we celebrate an AIDS-free generation at last.

Eric P. Goosby is the United States Global AIDS Coordinator