Cross posted from AIDS.gov, by Ronald O. Valdiserri, MD, MPH
The White House hosted a World AIDS Day observance on Tuesday, December 1, 2015, welcoming domestic and global leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Gathered under the theme “The Time to Act Is Now,” various presenters highlighted key actions underway or about to begin here in the U.S. and around the globe.
The event opened with videotaped remarks from President Obama, who observed “Today we find ourselves closer to an AIDS-free generation than ever before… But our work to save lives and end HIV as a public health threat is not finished… Today is a day to celebrate the extraordinary progress we’ve made. It’s also a day to remember those we’ve lost, and commit ourselves to the work we still have to do.” (Watch the video of his full remarks.)
During his opening remarks, Mr. Douglas Brooks, Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, released the National HIV/AIDS Strategy Federal Action Plan. Developed by 10 Federal agencies and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in response to the President’s July 30 Executive Order on implementing the updated Strategy, the Federal Action Plan contains 170 action items that those agencies will undertake to best leverage resources, capacity, and expertise as they work collaboratively to achieve the goals of the Strategy. The Federal Action Plan, Mr. Brooks observed “is not an exhaustive inventory of everything these Federal agencies are doing or will do; but, rather, a collection of a relatively small number of actions that will make a big difference.” Those actions, he continued, highlight efforts in four key focus areas prioritized in the updated Strategy:
The Federal Action Plan also highlights important actions to address HIV-related discrimination through enforcement actions and information sharing.
Mr. Brooks concluded his remarks, observing “So I’m here to say, here on World AIDS Day 2015 at the White House: no one deserves or is destined to acquire HIV. Not the highest paid actor on television. Not a black woman in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Not a gay boy in San Francisco or Oakland or Kampala or Bangkok. Not a transgender woman who might already be living in fear of being murdered on the streets of Chicago for simply living her truth. Not the Black man in Baltimore or white woman in Indiana with substance use disorders. No one deserves HIV, and everyone deserves care. HIV is not a crime, HIV is not a punishment, and HIV is not a death sentence. It’s 2015, and the time to act is now, to deliver treatment and care to those who need it, and to continue changing hearts and minds across America and the world.”
Given our significant advances in science and the availability of highly effective medicines that work as both HIV treatment and prevention, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of NIH’s National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases, observed that we can now speak credibly about having the end to the HIV/AIDS pandemic within our sights, a time when both new HIV infections and deaths due to AIDS are rare. HIV testing remains an important foundation of our ongoing efforts, he noted, since testing enables us to connect individuals to either an HIV care continuum or an HIV prevention continuum that provides them with needed health services to treat or prevent HIV infection. Echoing the World AIDS Day theme, “The time to act is now,” Dr. Fauci concluded his remarks by sharing the closing line of a perspective on ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic that he and a colleague had published that day in the New England Journal of Medicine, “The science has spoken. There can now be no excuse for inaction.”
Two panels then discussed how various jurisdictions, communities, and organizations are acting now to end HIV. The first panel highlighted efforts underway in Atlanta, Baltimore, Oakland, San Francisco, and Washington, DC – five jurisdictions that have signed on to UNAIDS’ Fast Track Cities Initiative.The global initiative — launched one year ago on World AIDS Day 2014 — seeks to accelerate the AIDS response in urban settings where much of the HIV burden lies. Among the strategies to accelerate our response, panelists identified:
The second panel discussed the vital role that partnerships play in reaching the global goal of ending AIDS.
Examples of leveraging the power of partnership included:
I had the privilege of sharing closing reflections at the observance, weaving together many of the important messages we’d heard throughout the afternoon. While it’s clear that science has advanced to a point where we can confidently talk about ending the epidemic, I cautioned that science alone is insufficient for us to reach that goal. If we are to achieve an AIDS-free generation, we must continue to adhere to those principles that carried us forward during the early days of the epidemic – when science was scarce and we had to rely on our collective ability to address this disease. These principles were echoed in many of the presenters’ remarks and include:
As the President observed “our work to save lives and end HIV as a public health threat is not finished.” But, given the advances in science, the lessons of our more than three decades of responding to HIV, and the energy, enthusiasm, and talents of a committed HIV community, the time to act is truly now.
Dr. Ron Valdiserri is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, Infectious Diseases at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.